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Arizona v. California

Citation: 30 ELR 20666
No. No. 8 Orig., 120 S. Ct. 2304/(U.S., 06/19/2000)

The U.S. Supreme Court holds that a Native American tribe's and U.S. claims to additional water rights from the Colorado River are not precluded by a previous Court decision or by a 1983 consent decree entered into by the United States and the tribe. The tribe's and the government's present claims are based on their contention that the tribe's reservation encompasses 25,000 acres of disputed boundary land not attributed to that reservation in earlier stages of the litigation, which began in 1952. Arizona and California argued that the claims are precluded.

The Court first holds that the claims of the United States and the tribe to increased water rights for the disputed boundary lands are not foreclosed by the Court's decision in Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546 (1963) (Arizona I). Arizona and California argued that the United States could have raised a boundary lands claim in Arizona I based on facts known at that time. The states, however, had every opportunity, and every incentive, to press their preclusion argument in earlier stages of the litigation following Arizona I, yet failed to do so. The Court next holds that the claims of the United States and the tribe to increased water rights are not precluded by a 1983 consent decree. The final consent judgment, which settled the tribe's claims that an 1893 agreement in which it ceded lands to the United States was invalid, is too opaque to serve as a foundation for issue preclusion. The Court, therefore, remands the outstanding water rights claims associated with the disputed boundary lands to a Special Master for a determination on the merits. The Court, however, accepts the Special Master's recommendation that the parties' proposed settlements with regard to two reservations be approved.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, with whom O'Connor, J., and Thomas, J., joined, would have held that U.S. and tribe's claims for additional water rights is barred by the principles of res judicata.

[Counsel not available at this printing.]

Joined by Stevens, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Breyer, JJ.; Rehnquist, J., concurs in part and dissents in part, joined by O'Connor and Thomas, JJ.