Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197, 9 (1993)

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Cite as: 507 U. S. 197 (1993)

Stevens, J., dissenting

think these norms of statutory construction have quite likely led us to the same conclusion that the 79th Congress would have reached had it expressly considered the question we now decide: It would not have included a desolate and extraordinarily dangerous land such as Antarctica within the scope of the FTCA. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore


Justice Stevens, dissenting. In my opinion the Court's decision to grant certiorari in this case was a wise exercise of its discretion. The question whether the United States should be held responsible for the tortious conduct of its agents in the vast "sovereignless region" of Antarctica, ante, at 198, is profoundly important, not only because its answer identifies the character of our concern about ordinary justice, but also because Antarctica is just one of three vast sovereignless places where the negligence of federal agents may cause death or physical injury. The negligence that is alleged in this case will surely have its parallels in outer space as our astronauts continue their explorations of ungoverned regions far beyond the jurisdictional boundaries that were familiar to the Congress that enacted the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) in 1946. Moreover, our jurisprudence relating to negligence of federal agents on the sovereignless high seas points unerringly to the correct disposition of this case. Unfortunately, the Court has ignored that jurisprudence in its parsimonious construction of the FTCA's "sweeping" waiver of sovereign immunity.1

In theory the territorial limits on the consent to sue the United States for the torts of its agents might be defined in four ways: (1) there is no such limit; (2) territory subject to

1 "The Federal Tort Claims Act waives the Government's immunity from suit in sweeping language." United States v. Yellow Cab Co., 340 U. S. 543, 547 (1951).


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