Issues and Cases

California claim jumps the rights of miners on federal land

People v. Rinehart


Contact: Jonathan Wood

Status:  Petition for Writ of Certiorari filed with the U.S. Supreme Court on Febraury 2, 2017.  Representing Brandon Rinehart, PLF has filed a petition with the Supreme Court of the United States asking it to decide whether states can frustrate federal law by banning federally encouraged activities, like mining, on federal lands.
 
Summary:  California was shaped by the search for gold.  But the state has recently turned its back on its rich mining heritage.  In 2009, it adopted a blanket ban against suction dredge mining throughout the state, including federal property.  Our client, Brandon Rinehart, challenged the ban as conflicting with federal law, which encourages mining on federal lands.  But the California Supreme Court ruled that states can frustrate mining as much as they want and for any reason or no reason whatsoever.  PLF has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review this unprecedented decision, which conflicts with every prior decision on the issue, including those from the U.S. Supreme Court, Eighth Circuit, Federal Circuit, and Colorado Supreme Court.

Under the Constitution, states may not frustrate or undermine valid federal laws.  As the Supreme Court has explained, “any state legislation which frustrates the full effectiveness of federal law” or which “stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress” is invalid.  Thus, if Congress decides to encourage an activity on federal lands, states may only impose supplemental regulations; they cannot prohibit the very activities federal law encourages.

That is precisely what California has done through its mining ban.  In the Mining Law of 1872, Congress declared that federal lands are “free and open” to mining.  The Supreme Court has acknowledged the obvious purpose of this law is to encourage mining on federal lands, a purpose which has also been reaffirmed by Congress.  California’s ban irreconcilably conflicts with this purpose.  States may regulate any environmental impacts of mining, but they may not simply ban the federally encouraged activity in lieu of regulating it.  The Supreme Court should take the case and make clear that states cannot veto Congress’ decision to put federal lands to productive use.

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