Arizona v. California

RESPONDENT: California
LOCATION: Pittsburgh Party Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

CITATION: 350 US 114 (1955)
ARGUED: Dec 08, 1955
DECIDED: Dec 08, 1955

Facts of the case


Media for Arizona v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1955 (Part 2) in Arizona v. California

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 08, 1955 (Part 1) in Arizona v. California

Earl Warren:

10 Original, State of California -- or State of Arizona versus the State of California.

Northcutt Ely:

May it please the Court.

I am accompanied, Your Honor, by Attorney General Brown of California, who has kindly yielded his time so that our time may not be divided.

This is a suit which was brought by the State of Arizona against the State of California and seven public agencies of our State to a quiet title to specific quantities of water from the Colorado River System for declaratory relief and for an injunction.

We are here upon exceptions to a report of a special master upon California’s motion to join the remaining four States of the Colorado River Basin, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, Nevada and the United States having intervened in this case.

There are two groups of issues in the case, one relating to the claims of the States, the other relating to the claims of the United States.

I may say that this is the fourth suit brought in this Court by Arizona relating to the waters of the Colorado River.It is the first in which he has not joined all of the other six States.

The first action in 1931 was to set aside or declare void the Colorado River Compact and to declare invalid the Boulder Canyon Project Act.

A second suit in 1934 was to perpetuate testimony of the negotiators of the Compact to prove certain contentions of Arizona as to interpretation.

And the third suit in 1935 was to ignore the Compact and for equitable apportionment.

This is not an equitable apportionment suit in which a State asked the Court to determine for it the quantity of water of an interstate stream theretofore undetermined as was the case in Wyoming versus Colorado, or Kansas versus Colorado, or Nebraska versus Wyoming, or even in the last Colorado River suit.

Here, Arizona asked a Court to quiet title in perpetuity to quantities of water which she says have already been fixed and determined by the Colorado River Compact and the Boulder Canyon Project Act, which she already owns, that these quantities were fixed for the three States of Arizona, California and Nevada by the Colorado River Compact and that her share was carved out by the Boulder Canyon Project Act and contracts made thereunder.

Now, I may say at the beginning that we think that Arizona overstates the collective rights of Arizona, California and Nevada against the upper States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming under the Colorado River Compact to the extent of about a million and half acre-feet per year.

And if that is true, a decree based upon such an assumption would be futile, an advisory opinion and based upon a fallacy at that, unless the four upper States whose obligation is involved here and who must furnish 80% of the water or thereabouts involved in this suit are joined and bound by the adjudication.

Now, second, as to the claims of the United States, when the Government intervened here, it claimed a total of approximately 12 million acre-feet of water for various purposes which is about half again as large as the combined claims of Arizona, California and Nevada.

These are for federal purposes.

And in addition thereto, claimed an unspecified quantities, the right for the complete control of the river, the utilization of a full capacity of all of its reservoirs, aggregating some 28 million acre-feet for flood control navigation, treaty requirements and other federal purposes.

We say that on the phase of the Government’s petition, these federal claims are claims against the waters of the entire system and not claims against Arizona, California and Nevada, and that they may not be adjudicated in the absence of all seven States.

We accordingly move to join the four upper States.

That motion was referred to a special master.

He filed a report, recommending adversely that our motion be denied except with respect to the States of New Mexico and Utah in their limited capacity with respect to the waters of the Lower Basin which I’ll explain in a moment.

He found that the Colorado River Compact, which I’ll shortly describe, so insulated the interest of the four upper States from the interest of the three lower States that these controversy, now before the Court, with respect to Arizona, California, Nevada and United States, although justiciable as to the present parties is not justiciable as to the absent parties in consequence of this insulation established by the Compact.

We maintained to the contrary that in the classic language from Shields versus Barrow, which has been the laws since 1855, that the absent states, not only have an interest in the controversy, but an interest of such a nature that a final decree with respect to the parties now before the Court cannot be made without either affecting that interest, or leaving a controversy in such a condition that its final termination may be wholly inconsistent with equity and good conscience in the language of the Court and that they should be joined as necessary parties.

I will deal with a question of justiciability as I describe the elements of the controversy now before the Court.

First, with the respect to the issues arising from the Colorado River Compact, next, with respect to those arising from the Boulder Canyon Project Act as the effect of claims of the States, and finally, the independent claims of the United States as they affect all seven States in our view.

Felix Frankfurter:

United States isn't before us formally in this case?

Northcutt Ely:

Yes, sir.

It has intervened.

Felix Frankfurter:

Yes, intervened.

But I mean, is not a party to this argument?