Federal Enclaves

Federal Enclaves in the United States

Federal enclaves are lands, buildings or other real property given to the Federal government by one of the states. Types of Federal enclaves include military bases, national parks, federal courthouses and the District of Columbia. Federal enclaves are legally significant because the state cedes legislative authority over the property to the Federal government. As a result, state laws enacted after the transfer do not apply to the enclave.

How does property becomes a Federal enclave?

There are three methods by which the United States obtains exclusive or concurrent jurisdiction over federal lands in a state: (1) a state statute consenting to the purchase of land by the United States for the purposes enumerated in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 7, of the Constitution of the United States; (2) a state cession statute; and (3) a reservation of federal jurisdiction upon the admission of a state into the Union. See Collins v. Yosemite Park Co., 304 U.S. 518 (1938). Since February 1, 1940, the United States acquires no jurisdiction over federal lands in a state until the head or other authorized officer of the department or agency which has custody of the lands formally accepts the jurisdiction offered by state law. See 40 U.S.C. § 255; Adams v. United States, 319 U.S. 312 (1943). Prior to February 1, 1940, acceptance of jurisdiction had been presumed in the absence of evidence of a contrary intent on the part of the acquiring agency or Congress. See Silas Mason Co., Inc. v. Tax Commission, 302 U.S. 186 (1937). See also USAM 9-20.000 et seq., for a discussion of federal enclave jurisdiction. [Criminal Resource Manual, Section 163 (U.S. Attorneys Office, 2013)]

How do you determine if a property is a Federal enclave?

To be sure a property is a Federal enclave, you will want to find …

  1. A state statute ceding the property to the Federal government. For this, you can check the state’s statutory code and, if that doesn’t work, search through the state’s historical laws (see State Statutes and Codes) and/or
  2. A cession deed (a/k/a “deed of cession”) from the state to the Federal government. For this, you would search the local land records.

In most situations, though, you can just ask …

A convenient method of determining the jurisdictional status is to contact an appropriate attorney with the agency having custody of the land. If the land is other than a military base, the regional counsel’s office of the General Services Administration usually has the complete roster of all Federal lands and buildings in its region and can frequently provide a definitive answer to jurisdiction. If the land in question is part of a military base, contact with the post Staff Judge Advocate may be helpful.[Criminal Resource Manual, Section 665(U.S. Attorneys Office, 2013)]

Legal Background

For information on the laws concerning Federal Enclaves see “Trapped in the Amber: State Common Law, Employee Rights, and Federal Enclaves”, 77(2) Brooklyn Law Review 499-550 (Winter 2012) and/or The Strongest Defense You’ve Never Heard Of: The Constitution’s Federal Enclave Doctrine and Its Effect on Litigants, States and Congress, 29 Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal 73 (2011). See also the treatise, Federal Enclave Law: U.S. Jurisdiction over Federal Areas within the States by Roger W. Haines, Jr., a former Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of California.