March 5, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court issues opinion on Texas v. New Mexico & Colorado

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Laura Paskus

The U.S. Supreme Court.

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion on Texas v. New Mexico and Colorado.

The high court will allow the United States to intervene on the water case on the Rio Grande and pursue claims under the Rio Grande Compact.

In 2013, Texas sued the upstream states of New Mexico and Colorado, alleging that by allowing farmers in southern New Mexico to pump from groundwater wells near the Rio Grande, New Mexico has failed to send its legal share of water downstream.

During oral arguments before the court earlier this year, the U.S. government argued that New Mexico was also harming its ability to deliver water under the compact, as well as under its international treaty with Mexico.

And now, the high court agrees the U.S. can pursue this claim in the case.

In the unanimous opinion, delivered by Justice Neil Gorsuch, they write:

First, the Compact is inextricably intertwined with the Rio Grande Project and the Downstream Contracts. Second, New Mexico has conceded in pleadings and at oral argument that the United States plays an integral role in the Compact’s operation. Third, a breach of the Compact could jeopardize the federal government’s ability to satisfy its treaty obligations to Mexico. Fourth, the United States has asserted its Compact claims in an existing action brought by Texas, seeking substantially the same relief and without that State’s objection. This case does not present the question whether the United States could initiate litigation to force a State to perform its obligations under the Compact or expand the scope of an existing  controversy between States.

James Hallinan, spokesman for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, offered the following statement in response to the opinion: “The Supreme Court ruled today on actions taken by former Attorney General King, including a lawsuit brought by his administration against the United States that triggered Texas’ lawsuit, however, Attorney General Balderas will continue to vigorously defend the rights of New Mexico water users and work with all parties to seek a fair resolution for New Mexicans,” he wrote. “Today’s ruling was a preliminary matter clarifying the United States’ role in the case.”

We’ll have more on the issue later this week. To read our coverage of January’s oral arguments, visit here.

Update: We added the statement from James Hallinan following the story’s original publication.