Wyoming v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: United States District Court, Western District North Carolina, Charlotte Division

DOCKET NO.: 88-309
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Wyoming Supreme Court

CITATION: 492 US 406 (1989)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 1989
DECIDED: Jun 26, 1989

Jeffrey P. Minear - on behalf of Respondents
Michael Douglas White - on behalf of Petitioner
Susan M. Williams - on behalf of Tribal Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Wyoming v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1989 in Wyoming v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll near argument now in No. 88-309, the State of Wyoming v. the United States.

Mr. White.

Michael Douglas White:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is here on certiorari to the Wyoming Supreme Court which the state contends erroneously quantified the Federal Reserved water right for the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The specific question before the Court is whether the practically irrigable acreage standard, or PIA standard, for the quantification of the employed federal right was properly applied below where there were state water rights congressionally mandated and acquired for the reservation and where there was no need shown for an additional water right as a reserved right.

The general question--

Byron R. White:

Well, suppose... suppose there hadn't been the state rights... state water reservation rights, is your claim still that the standard was misapplied?

Michael Douglas White:

--Yes, sir.

Byron R. White:


Michael Douglas White:

It is.

Byron R. White:


Michael Douglas White:

And the more general question that is before the Court, and the one that has drawn so much attention from the amici is the applicability, the universal applicability of the PIA quantification... standard to all reservations other than those in Arizona I.

After briefly describing the facts of our case, I would like to explain why the Wyoming court should be reversed.

If you have before you the cert petition itself, and the last page of that petition is a fold-out map showing the reservation.

And following along with that, let me make my explanation clear.

The reservation itself is located in northwestern Wyoming.

It's about 45 miles southeast of Yellowstone National Park and Little Small River in Yellowstone National Park.

The boundaries that you see on that map are about 60 miles from east to west and about 50 miles from north to south.

The reservation itself was set aside by treaty with the Shoshone in 1868.

There were approximately 2,400 Indians that are part of a band of Shoshone that were living to the west of the present reservation site.

Ten years later, in 1878, the Arapaho were forcibly placed on the reservation, to which the Shoshone strenuously objected and for which they received compensation in the 1930s for the loss of one-half of their reservation.

During the remainder of the 19th Century, there was every little development on the Indian Reservation, while around the Indian Reservation substantial non-Indian development took place.

So that by 1900, when only roughly 1,700 Indians remained on the reservation despite the fact that both tribes were now permanently located there, the Indians were desperate to get started in farming in earnest.

And Congress and the federal officials and the Indians themselves were very anxious about the availability of water to carry on that farming simply because of all the non-Indian irrigation development around the Reservation appeared to have called for more water than would allow the Indians to continue.


Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. White--

Michael Douglas White:

--Yes, ma'am.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--is it the fact that before 1915 that the Federal Government had obtained protective state water permits sufficient to irrigate 145,000 acres?

Michael Douglas White:

That's correct, Your Honor.