Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Expert: U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's Brief a Good Sign for Tribes

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Expert: U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli's Brief a Good Sign for Tribes

Article excerpt

A brief filed by the solicitor general urging the U.S. Supreme Court to review Tarrant County's lawsuit against the Oklahoma Water Resources Board contains language that may signal the federal government is supportive of tribal water rights, a Tulsa University law school professor said Tuesday.

Language, buried deep in the 27-page brief filed by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, could signal that the federal government is aware of water rights claims by the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations and is supportive of them, TU law professor Judith Royster said.

"There is an agency of the federal government asserting that the tribes have water rights," Royster said. "Or at least that agency is signaling that those rights aren't going away and that they need to be carefully considered."

Verrilli's brief was filed with the high court last week.

Tribal water rights are at the center of a yearlong dispute between the Choctaw and the Chickasaw nations, the OWRB and the Oklahoma City Water Utilities Trust. After the OCWUT purchased the water storage rights of the Sardis Lake Reservoir during the summer of 2011, the tribes filed a lawsuit in Oklahoma City federal court seeking to overturn the deal.

That lawsuit followed a separate legal action - and permit request - from the Tarrant Regional Water District. After losing in federal district court and at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, the TRWD asked the nation's high court to review its lawsuit.

In April the court asked Verrilli to submit a brief expressing the opinion of the government. But, in addition to language calling for the court to review the case, Verrilli wrote that tribal water rights could be an issue in the Tarrant lawsuit.

"The United States is currently involved in litigation over the asserted rights of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations to water within their historic territory," he wrote. …

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