On March 25, 2013, Georgia senators passed House Resolution 4 (“HR 4”), a resolution which proposed settlement of the boundary dispute between the State of Georgia and the State of Tennessee. The resolution attempts to settle the long running dispute about the Tennessee-Georgia state line and clarify Georgia’s access to the Tennessee River. It also directs the Georgia attorney general to file suit in the U.S. Supreme Court (based on Article III, Section 12 of the U.S. Constitution) if Tennessee does not accept Georgia’s offer by the last day of next year’s General Assembly session.
Everyone knows that the ultimate issue here is water. The current border cuts off Georgia from access to the Tennessee River. The Tennessee River has been long coveted by Georgia as a source of more than enough water to meet the demands of metro Atlanta’s ever growing population.
Georgia’s argument is that the boundary between Tennessee and Georgia was originally set at the 35th parallel until an incorrect survey in 1817 set it slightly to the south. Were the Tennessee-Georgia state line moved to precisely follow the 35th parallel, the line would be shifted northward to points over a mile north of its present location. Nonetheless, the proposed settlement from Georgia offers to claim only a tiny unpopulated part of Tennessee at Nickajack Lake (enough to withdraw water from the Tennessee River). Georgia would make no claims on the rest of the area up to the 35th parallel.
Georgia has raised this issue several times to no avail. Georgia made efforts in the 1890s, 1905, 1915, 1922, 1941, 1947 (which similarly authorized the Georgia attorney general to bring suit to the U.S. Supreme Court), 1971 and 2008 to resolve this dispute. Each time Tennessee did little or nothing in response. Based on recent statements by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Legislature, it seems that Tennessee will be taking the same approach in response to HR 4.
A border lawsuit between Georgia and Tennessee accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court would easily become one of the most significant border cases in our nation’s history. Furthermore, the political and economic effect of moving the Tennessee-Georgia border to the north by a mile would be massive.