The Supreme Court doesn’t often get down and dirty with facts. Usually by the time a case gets to the Supreme Court, the facts have been sorted out. The trial courts look at evidence in the case about and decide which facts matter for resolving the case, and the Supreme Court just looks at the legal issues (for more information, see our infographic on Standards of Review).
In rare cases, the Supreme Court gets “original jurisdiction.” That means, unlike other cases, it doesn’t have a “lower court” decision; there was no lower court. This case is one of them. It’s a dispute between Florida and Georgia, and the Constitution says that disputes between states go straight to the Supreme Court.
First, what is the dispute?
Florida argues Georgia is using up too much of the water flowing through Georgia that should be arriving into Florida’s Apalachicola Region. Florida says it needs the water to preserve its ecosystems and economy. Florida wants the Supreme Court to limit Georgia’s use of the water.
How does the Supreme Court resolve it?
Because the Supreme Court generally is not engaged in the type of work of a trial court (deciding which facts/evidence to admit into the record), the Supreme Court may appoint a “Special Master,” which is what the Court did here.
A Special Master is basically a person to serve as a trial judge. The Supreme Court appointed a Special Master for this case back in 2014. Between then and February 2017, Ralph I. Lancaster (the Special Master) was adjudicating the case on behalf of the Supreme Court. On February 16, 2017, Lancaster submitted a report to the Court, recommending how the Court should decide various issues in the case.
The Special Master’s report
The Special Master recommended that the Court declare itself unable to issue a decision in this case because the case is not “redressable.”
That would be a loss for Florida. The parties (Florida and Georgia) get a chance to respond to the Special Master’s recommendation. Florida argues against the Special Master’s decision that the case is not redressable. Georgia responds. And they will argue their sides before the Court on January 8th, 2017.
We explain the case and the main issue the Supreme Court will consider: redressability.
Another water rights case to be argued the same day
The Court will hear another case between two states regarding a water dispute on the same day. Read about Texas v. New Mexico.
A previous version of this infographic included a line which had Georgia in place of Florida and vice versa.