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Texas v. New Mexico

ELR Citation: 48 ELR 20035
Nos. 141, (U.S., 03/05/2018)

The U.S. Supreme Court held that the United States may pursue claims against New Mexico for violating the Rio Grande Compact, which Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas entered into in the 1930s to resolve disputes over water rights. Texas filed suit alleging that New Mexico was allowing its residents to siphon off more than its share of water before it was delivered to Texas. The United States intervened and filed a complaint with parallel allegations, but a Special Master recommended that the United States' complaint be dismissed because the compact does not confer on the United States power to enforce its terms. The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court has sometimes allowed the federal government to participate in compact suits to defend "distinctively federal interests" that a normal litigant might not otherwise be permitted to pursue. Here, the United States agreed by treaty in 1906 to supply water to Mexico upon completion of the Elephant Butte Reservoir, which occurred in 1916 as part of the federal government's Rio Grande Project. The reservoir plays a central role in fulfilling the United States' treaty obligations with Mexico as well as several agreements with downstream water districts in New Mexico and Texas. The compact is therefore inextricably intertwined with the Rio Grande Project and the downstream contracts. In addition, New Mexico conceded that the United States plays an integral role in the compact's operation. Also, a breach of the compact could jeopardize the federal government's ability to satisfy its treaty obligations to Mexico. And 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. Taken together, these factors favor allowing the United States to pursue its claims. Gorsuch, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.