Supreme Court releases opinion on water dispute between Texas and New Mexico

Image of the front of the United States Supreme Court building

The Supreme Court of the United States issued an opinion in Texas v. New Mexico, which was argued on October 5, 2020. The case is part of the court’s original jurisdiction, meaning it was the first and only court to hear the case. Original jurisdiction cases are rare. According to the Federal Judicial Center, since 1960, the court “received fewer than 140 motions for leave to file original cases, nearly half of which were denied a hearing.”

Texas v. New Mexico concerned an interstate water dispute. In 1949, the two states entered a compact about use of the Pecos River, which flows south from New Mexico to Texas, where it joins the Rio Grande. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed a river master to issue an annual report summarizing New Mexico’s compliance with its compact obligations. In this case, Texas challenged retroactive changes the river master made to his 2014-2015 annual report.

In a 7-1 opinion written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court denied Texas’ motion to review the river master’s annual report, holding the river master correctly determined New Mexico’s water delivery credit. Kavanaugh wrote, “As the River Master correctly concluded, New Mexico is entitled to delivery credit for the evaporated water. That result is both legally accurate and entirely fair.”

Justice Samuel Alito concurred in part and dissented in part. In his opinion, Alito wrote that he would have vacated the case and remanded it to the river master with instructions to redo his analysis.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case. She was not a member of the court when arguments were held.

As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

Additional reading: