US Supreme Court let Cuba travel, water war cases stand

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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday said it will not take up Florida cases dealing with a ban on Cuban travel and a decades’ long water war between the states, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

The court also declined to take a death penalty case involving a man with an IQ his lawyers said was too low.

Without comment, the nation’s high court refused to consider the cases, which were among dozens of other appeals that were rejected Monday by the court, which takes up about 1 percent of the cases it is asked to rule on.

The decision leaves standing a lower court ruling over water flow in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, an interconnected system linking Lake Lanier north of Atlanta to the Florida Gulf coast.

Specifically, Alabama and Florida contend that federal officials did not have the authority to divert more water to Atlanta than limitations set out in a tri-state compact drafted back in the 1950s.

The fight targeted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control over the Buford Dam, which not only holds back the water that is now Lake Lanier but determines the water flow to the river systems farther south.

Georgia argued the water needs of the teeming city outweigh the minimum flow requirements. Further, as operator of the Buford Dam, the Corps has the flexibility to open the tap to the Atlanta area without an act of Congress, the state says.

Alabama and Florida officials said the Corps was charged with maintaining water flow needed to generate power, navigate the rivers and provide enough water flow for Florida’s commercial seafood industry.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta had said the Corps was within its purview to allocate water resources to the Atlanta area, and with Monday’s decision by the high court not to take the case, that stands. The cases, combined, are Florida et. al. v. Georgia et. al. and Alabama et. al. v. Georgia et. al.

The Supreme Court also let stand a 2006 Florida law restricting travel to Cuba that was challenged by the Florida International University faculty senate and individual professors who contend that it improperly infringes on the federal government’s power to make decisions about foreign policy.

The 11th U.S. Circuit upheld the law. In a brief to the Supreme Court, state attorneys wrote that professors are “not constitutionally entitled to demand state support for their academic travel simply because federal law permits such travel.” The case was Faculty Senate v. Florida.

The court also let stand a Florida Supreme Court ruling that upheld the state’s death penalty standards in regard to mentally retarded defendants. The state Supreme Court ruled that a defendant with an IQ score of 70 could not use retardation as a reason to escape the death penalty because Florida’s law specifically sets 70 as a rigid benchmark instead of using a range of IQ scores. That case was Herring v. Florida.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.