482 U. S. 124
June 8, 1987
Texas and New Mexico had a long running dispute about who got to use the water of the Pecos River. A compact was finally signed in 1949, which said that Texas should be able to take water from the river as it could in 1947. What the “1947 condition” meant was endlessly debated, until the Supreme Court stepped in during the 1980s, and appointed a Special Master to figure out how to interpret the compact. The Special Master decided that New Mexico had been cheating Texas for a while, and ordered that the Land of Enchantment deliver a large amount of extra water to the Lone Star State for ten years as compensation. New Mexico balked, and said the Special Master should only have the power to interpret the compact prospectively.
White wrote for a unanimous Court (Stevens did not participate). He said that a compact was essentially just like any other contract, and that retrospective damages could be awarded by the Special Master, even if New Mexico was not aware at the time of what the compact entailed. Nonetheless, the Court reject the Special Master’s contention that monetary damages would be insufficient as a remedial measure under the compact. White disagreed, and noted that specific performance is hardly the only remedy for breach of contract. The case was remanded to determine what sort of remedy was most appropriate. To further ensure that New Mexico’s riparian obligations to Texas would be correctly fulfilled, the Court called for the appointment of a River Master. Finally, the Court promised that a more extensive decree would be forthcoming soon.