By Brad Jones
The Supreme Court of California has ruled against suction dredge mining in the People v. Rinehart case.
“We conclude the state’s moratorium is not preempted. The federal laws Rinehart relies upon reflect a congressional intent to afford prospectors secure possession of, and in some instances title to, the places that they mine,” the court stated. “But while Congress sought to protect miners’ real property interests, it did not go further and guarantee them a right to mine immunized from the exercises of the states’ police powers. We reverse the Court of Appeal.”
Mining groups, including Public Lands for the People, the American Mining Rights Association and the Western Mining Alliance, are disappointed with the court opinion released Monday, Aug. 22.
Both PLP President Ron Kliewer and AMRA President Shannon Poe blasted the court, suggesting politics were at play despite the legal rationale outlined in th court opinion: http://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/documents/S222620.PDF
“I think the fix was in. We have a liberal activist chief justice,” Kliewer said. “It’s obvious that the California Supreme Court justices do not understand dredging.”
The statewide suction dredge mining ban was imposed in 2009, first as a two-year “moratorium,” which has been continuously extended under various legislation and legal maneuvers by the state and environmental agencies ever since.
“It’s very discouraging. It really is. But, don’t give up,” he told miners.
“I’m deeply disappointed. It’s hard not to assume there’s not some politics at play here,” Poe said.
U.S. Supreme Court
“We have one option left, and that’s the Supreme Court of the United States,” Poe said.
Poe suggested that AMRA and the Western Mining Alliance as well as other mining rights groups are considering enlisting the help of the Pacific Legal Foundation to petition the federal supreme court, which has an impressive track record of winning court cases at the federal level.
“The WMA has been working with the Pacific Legal Foundation for years, and PLF has expressed interest in possibly taking this case to the U.S. Supreme Court. If that happens, it would be phenomenal because they are probably one of the best groups out there. They have exceptional attorneys,” Poe said. “I think they’ve won every damn case. I can’t think of one that they’ve lost. They’ve beat back the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management on all kinds of land rights issues. I think it is ripe for them to take it, but it obviously has to be their decision. I know that is something that WMA is going to pursue, and we’re backing WMA 110 percent.”
Meanwhile, the PLF Staff Attorney Johnathon Wood wrote in Liberty Blog, “CA Supreme Court invites state to frustrate federal policy,” that he is also disappointed with the California Supreme Court decision.
“The case concerns an apparent conflict between federal law, which encourages mining on federal lands, and the state’s ban against the only practicable method of mining stream bed claims,” Wood wrote. “Despite the conflict, the court denied the federal Mining Act any preemptive effect, essentially holding that state’s are free to frustrate or prohibit mining willy-nilly, no matter how obviously that may frustrate federal policy.”
Because of the state’s prohibitory—rather than regulatory—approach to dredging, the Rinehart case has a better chance than most cases of getting the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court, Wood wrote.
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Brad Jones is the Managing Editor/Communications Director for the Gold Prospectors Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.