Upper and lower borders of countries

This thread with its discussion on “Anchor Babies” and the fact that anyone born “in” the United States is automatically a citizen got me thinking.

It is nearly unquestionable that a baby born on the top floor of the Empire State Building or on the lowest floor of the Cheyenne Mountain complex would be born “in” the US. Is there a specific point (e.g. exactly X feet above sea level, exactly Y feet above ground level, the exact point where the air pressure drops below Z, etc.) above the ground or below the ground where the country “ends” in a legally cognizable sense? Is there any generally accepted understanding of what would legally happen when you crossed those borders?

This question is not limited to birthright citizenship. For example,

Putting aside engineering realities and building permits and considering the law in theory, would it be possible to create a skyscraper in New York so tall that the top floor wasn’t in New York or the United States? Could you create one tall enough that there was at least one floor that was outside of New York but was legally located in FAA-regulated airspace subject only to Federal jurisdiction (so no sugary soda tax, etc. at your bar up there…) but still subject to the Federal minimum wage? Sure, there are laws providing for continuing jurisdiction over aircraft and spacecraft no matter how high they fly, but I’m not sure that FAA regulations for behavior aboard an aircraft would necessarily apply to a sky-tower or space elevator that was bolted firmly to the ground and that didn’t fly.

Could you dig a basement so deep that someone who went all the way to the bottom would have legally left the country? Hey, maybe I can set up a sweatshop down there and not have to pay minimum wage, because hey, that’s only for workers in the US!

Or how about other countries? Could you dig a tunnel from Washington State to Alaska that went so far underneath Canada that traveling through the tunnel didn’t subject you to Canadian law, because you didn’t enter Canada? “Attention travelers, at this point, there is a hatch above you with a ladder that rises for one hundred meters. If you wish to climb it, you may, but do not go above 50 meters, because the Canadian border is only 60 meters above you and there is no Canadian customs and immigration official on duty up there. Thank you.”

Regarding airspace:

The ancient common-law rule was that a property owner owned from the center of the earth to the heavens: *Cujus est solum ejus est usque ad coelum. * I think it’s likely this doctrine would determine caselaw to be made regarding your hypotheticals—though a separate doctrine based on convenience and home port would likely prevail over someone born in a traveling spacecraft.

I think I read an old SF-novel once, where the plot hinged on this matter: How far upwards (and downwards) does your property stretch?
Heinlein, perhaps? Anyone know?

(In reality, of course, all you can defend, personally or by proxy, will be recognized as your territory.)

For comparison, the amended international treaty on continental shelves states that, in general, a country’s sovereignty extends to the 200-foot depth contour (I think it’s 200 feet), BUT it can go beyond that if there are “natural resources” which can be “easily extracted” beyond that line (not exact wording, but that’s the idea).

In other words, the standard rule is “formal,” but exceptions are built in for “functional” reasons. A similar kind of thing surely applies to vertical sovereignty.

Of course, functional definitions leave room for conflicting interpretations…just ask the countries around the South China Sea.

Heinlein. The Man Who Sold the Moon.

The “amended international treaty” you’re having in mind is likely the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea from 1982, to which the United States, interestingly enough, isn’t a party - which, in the end, doesn’t make that much of a difference, since many of its provisions are regarded as part of customary international law and thus extend to the United States on that basis. The definition of the continental shelf there is governed by Article 76 of the Convention, which does not give a lower boundary along the vertical dimension (and one point the 2,500 metre isobath, i.e. the line connecting the points where the soil of the sea is 2,500 metres deep, is mentioned; but that line is used only for the purposes of delineating the continental shelf towards the high see, not a boundary along the vertical dimension).

There was also a Heinlein(?) juvenile novel where some kid wins a contest to “anywhere on earth” and elects to go to the space station. When the announcer says “no, anywhere on earth” he quotes some treaty (made up I assume) that set the upper limit of countries’ jurisdiction at X miles up, and the space station orbited below that, therefore technically included in the choice of destinations.

it included the classic bit where the announcer replies “Is your dad a lawyer?” and the book says " …I replied ‘No’ and I didn’t think it would help things to add ‘but my uncle is’ so I didn’t say so."

but to the OP’s question, to faux-quote Ted Kennedy, “we’ll drive off that bridge when we come to it.” Case law has not had to concern itself with legalities of high-altitude space birth; the jurisdiction issues of aircraft travel are likely settled, but I couldn’t tell you what they are off-hand. I do recall Air Canada got their liquor license pulled by Ontario for violations way back in the 70’s, so the stewardesses had to close down the bar cart while flying over Ontario. I assume spacecraft would generally be regarded as aircraft, or maybe vessels on the high seas, since speed and height make where any attempt to stop, force landings, track time over the country, etc. a lot less controllable than for aircraft. So yes, somewhere up there is an upper limit, but nobody’s worried about the status of super-tall buildings because they are not feasible yet.

There’s a mine in Canada (in Flin Flon) which goes under the provincial border, but IIRC the Saskatchewan government has agreed with Manitoba that the Manitoba labour and safety law applies to the entire mine since the shaft is on that side and it simplifies any legal issues. But of course, that a sideways tunnel issue not a depth one; the Saskatchewan government asserts jurisdiction and gives a concession by agreement. So far, technical challenges for extreme depth appear to even more complex than for extreme buildings.

I suppose if you went down far enough, the Earth being an oblate spheroid, eventually your basement floors would start to cross into other countries’ territory, assuming your basement stayed a certain width and height. Or you’d end up in the jurisdiction of the proverbial China (although more realistically, you’d be under the Pacific, and outside a national jurisdiction).

I didn’t even know that the Vatican had any continental shelf within their borders.

Continuing with the “anchor baby” part of the question. If a woman gives birth while flying over the US, is that baby automatically a US citizen?


Or what if she gives birth while skydiving over New York? Say she took off in a plane from Toronto and then jumped out after the plane “crossed” the border. Yes it’s medically very risky, but there’s no law of physics that says that it couldn’t happen. So is the baby automatically a US citizen due to birth in the US?

If you say, “no”, what about if the birth happened only 50 meters before impact? Baby born in the US, or still a foreign birth?

Now, what if, instead of jumping from a plane, she had base-jumped from the Empire State Building and gave birth 50 meters above the streets of New York. Baby born in the US?

And, to mitigate the hypothetical somewhat, even if she and the baby died on impact, whether or not the deceased child was a US citizen could have probate ramifications. Someone also might claim that being a person that was both born in New York and died in New York raises a presumption that the deceased was a resident of New York at the time of death until rebutted, requiring the family to hire a New York attorney to convince a judge to transfer probate back up to Ontario.

According to this: There’s a gold mine in South Africa that’s 2.5 miles deep. All still under the jurisdiction of South Africa of course, but also “hard to police.” So at least for the lower level, it may come down to “what you can defend.” As Ignotus mentioned above.

No, you’re thinking of the Holy See. The High See is an enclave near Denver ruled by His Highness, the Dope Pope Clinton CDXX, Ganjifex Maximus.

I imagine that would be true inside or outside an airplane.