JACKSON — The U.S Supreme Court is asking the Obama administration to weigh-in on whether to allow Mississippi to filed a new lawsuit alleging Memphis, Tennessee, is stealing water from the state.
The Supreme Court yesterday invited Solicitor General Don Verrilli’s office to file a brief on behalf of the U.S. government. Verrilli is the No. 2 official in the Justice Department and is the chief courtroom lawyer for the executive branch.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood wants to refile a lawsuit over the water rights question. The U.S. Supreme refused in 2010 to consider a similar claim.
Mississippi alleges that Memphis’ wells have created “cones of depression” in the water table that remove water from Mississippi into Tennessee. It estimates that Memphis has “forcibly” taken 252 billion gallons of water since 1985.
Memphis, its city-owned utility system and the state of Tennessee argue Mississippi’s claims contradict science and legal precedent. They also say the aquifer is an interstate resource to which no state can claim ownership without formal apportionment.
The Mississippi motion is the latest in a legal battle dating to 2005, when Hood filed suit against Memphis and city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division in federal court in Oxford. That suit sought up to $1.3 billion in damages and could have required the city to draw some of its water from the Mississippi River.
In 2008, U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson ruled that his court lacked jurisdiction because the state of Tennessee, though not named as a defendant, must be brought in as a “necessary and indispensable” party. In such a dispute between states, the arbiter must be the U.S. Supreme Court, he said.
Davidson’s ruling was upheld by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.