In a guest column in today’s major Sacramento printed news product, Christopher Thornburg complains that California’s water rights system is inherited from medieval England.
He is not really correct about that. California does enjoy a complex system of related water rights doctrines, only some of which have anything to do with English common law. Riparian rights date back to English common law, but that is only one part of the California system. Prior appropriation is the other major water rights doctrine, and that is a rule developed in the American West. Dedicated students can trudge through the decision in Lux v. Haggin, 69 Cal. 255 (1884), for a complete run down. California also uses the public trust doctrine, which is said to be based on English law, but that is also not correct.
But more to the point, what has Mr. Thornburg got against the legal heritage of medieval England? Due process, rights of criminal defendants, independent judges, right to trial by jury, an executive who is subject to the laws established by the people’s representatives, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, what else would he throw overboard because it has a long and proud history?
Pundits and columnists should do their homework before sharing their opinions with us, and they should stop throwing around “medieval” as though the only thing it means is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It is called satire for a reason.