The Supreme Court today decided the original jurisdiction case of Montana v. Wyoming in favor of Wyoming. I love original jurisdiction cases–these are the cases where one state sues another state directly in the Supreme Court, instead of going through lower courts first. As you can read in The Odd Clauses when it comes out (there’s a whole chapter about the Original Jurisdiction Clause), the Constitution lists a number of types of cases in which the Supreme Court has original (as opposed to appellate) jurisdiction, but since Congress has given the federal district courts concurrent jurisdiction over most of these cases, the only ones that go directly to the Supreme Court are the state vs. state ones. Every year the Court decides one or two; although the Court could theoretically hold trials itself (and has done so 3x in its history), ordinarily it hires a Special Master to analyze the case and come up with recommendations, which is what the Court reviews.
The Montana v. Wyoming case involves water rights and an old interstate compact that gave Wyoming the right to take a certain amount of water for irrigation from the Yellowstone River. Sixty years ago when the two states entered into the compact, Wyoming used a relatively inefficient method of irrigating its crops, and as a result, much of the water went back into the river. This was good for Montana because it meant there was a lot of water left in the river for Montana farmers to take out. Now, though, Wyoming farmers use a much more efficient irrigation method, thus reducing the amount of water that goes back into the river and the amount of water left for Montana residents to use. Montana argued this new practice violated the original compact. In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court disagreed and held for Wyoming. Justice Kagan recused.
Justice Scalia dissented. Now, I’m not going to pretend like anybody other than Supreme Court geeks and water rights experts and people in Wyoming and Montana are going to care much about this opinion, but there’s one part that’s priceless. That is Justice Scalia’s footnote that comes right at the beginning of the opinion where he says (in the text): “The Court interprets the Yellowstone River Compact . . . the right to grant . . . Wyomans the right to increase their consumption . . .” There’s a star footnote after the word “Wyomans” and the footnote says this:
The dictionary-approved term is “Wyomingite,” which is also the name of a type of lava, see Webster’s New International Dictionary 2961 (2d ed. 1957). I believe the people of Wyoming deserve better.
How awesome is that?
Here’s a picture of Wyomingite: