Last Sunday, our pastor preached on social justice. She focused on the injustices committed against American Indians. She specifically mentioned water rights for the Gila River Indian Community. While clerking for the Arizona Supreme Court we had a couple of water cases. One of them involved GRIC. Here is the opening paragraph of that case:
This is an interlocutory appeal by the San Carlos Apache Tribe (“Apache Tribe” or “Tribe”) from an order issued in the Gila River general stream adjudication. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. (“A.R.S.”) §§ 45-251 to -264 (2003) (authorizing general stream adjudications). The central issue is whether claims advanced by the Tribe (and the United States on the Tribe’s behalf) are precluded by a consent decree entered in 1935 by the United States District Court for the District of Arizona. We conclude that the decree precludes the Tribe’s claims to additional water from the Gila River mainstem, but not to water from tributaries of the Gila.
These cases are complex. They also epitomize the real tension in the practice of law between doing what is right and respecting process. Respecting process sounds so inferior in the abstract, but in practice it is paramount. (It’s also easier to see when the result is in favor of a sympathetic party. E.g. if honoring a settled decision doesn’t seem important to you, than perhaps excluding evidence obtained in violation of a procedural requirement does.)
Listening to the pastor’s call to action toward the end of her sermon made me wonder about how do we act on such complex issues. The next time this case comes to the Arizona Supreme Court, should the church submit an amicus brief begging the court to reverse its res judicata holding?
Then it occurred to me that the way we act is by promoting values. Whatever, the right answer is regarding distributing water among the various parties in the West, we will get a better answer if we value others as equals. We’ll get a better answer if we remember the importance of things beyond monetary measures. We’ll get a better answer if we remember to treat others as we would like to be treated.
I think it is perfectly appropriate for the church to promote these values and suggest that these values should impact our policies.