Thursday, July 27, 2017

Inter-imperial riparian law IV: The attraction of American law

Yesterday I discussed the extensive use water law judicial decisions in the courts of Lower Canada, with its pre-revolutionary French property law, made of American sources. Today I discuss why they may have looked to a jurisdiction that had never belonged to the old empire from which the local law derived, and no longer belonged to the new empire of which Canada was now a part.

 Hon. Justice T.C. Aylwin (Library and Archives Canada)
In his dissent in the 1859 case of Boswell v. Denis Judge Aylwin indicated one reason why Canadians may have preferred American law over French in some cases. According to French law, a ‘navigable and floatable’ river was a public one, in which the public enjoyed rights that could not be impaired by the riparian owners. As the river in question in Boswell, the Jacques-Cartier, contained rapids and was therefore not ‘navigable’ by boat traffic, the majority of the court straightforwardly applied the French test and ruled that it could not be considered a public river. Aylwin objected to this analysis: ‘Our rivers cannot be compared with those of France or Europe; the Jacques Cartier is a good sized river and has plenty of water,—it has rapids it is true, but […] I believe the river to be both navigable and flottable.’ Following a tradition going back to Montesquieu and further, Aylwin argued that French law could not apply unmodified in North America, as it was developed for a different set of environmental circumstances. Similarly, in a 1905 case Justice Trenholme of the Quebec King’s Bench noted that American authorities on the question of navigability ‘possess more than ordinary interest for Canadian Courts, as the conditions there were and are precisely like those in our country’.

Yet it seems this was not the only reason for Canadians’ turn to American water law. Returning to Brown v. Gugy, it is significant that the American case which Judge Aylwin preferred over the lower court’s ruling was from Louisiana, the only American state which based its legal system on (French) civil law. Moreover, Kent’s discussion of water law (like his discussions of many other subjects) was replete with references to civilian sources. In the pages quoted in Aylwin’s opinion (sections 6 and 7 of Kent’s Lecture 52), the American jurist cited a large number of American and English cases, as was appropriate for a work purporting to be a commentary on American law, but his very first citations were to civilian sources: Justinian’s Digest, Pothier’s Traité du Contrat de Société and Toullier’s Droit Civil Français. Later in the section, he cited again to Pothier, quoted with approval a maxim of Roman law and stated that the Code Napoléon established the same rule as said maxim.

Later commentators have divided as to what extent Kent’s use of civilian sources was substantial or rather mere window dressing, with Alan Watson arguing that Kent’s use of the Roman and French sources in the section cited above was riddled with errors and that it provided little support to his exposition of riparian rights.  Nonetheless it seems that Judge Aylwin saw Kent as a good civilian source, prefacing his long quote from the Commentaries thus:

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Inter-imperial riparian law III: American sources of French-Canadian water law

Continuing where yesterday's post left off:

Canada’s broad St. Lawrence River and its tributaries were the sites of intensive water use in the mid-nineteenth century. They served as fishing grounds, highways for water craft, conduits for floating logs and sources of power for both traditional grist mills and new industrial facilities. Uses and users often came into conflict, and these conflicts often landed up in court.

Jonathan Sewell
(Appleton's Cyclopaedia of American Biography, 1900)
The earliest fully reported case of this type was the 1832 case of Oliva v. Boissonnault. James Oliva sued Nicolas Boissonnault in the court of King’s Bench, District of Quebec, for placing obstructions in the Rivière du Sud, blocking the floating of logs downstream to the St. Lawrence. Chief Justice Jonathan Sewell ruled for Oliva, explaining that under French law the public had a right of passage on every stream capable of floating logs or rafts. Alongside his discussion of French law, he noted that the public’s right was the same in England and America, citing Kent’s Commentaries with regard to the latter. Two years later St. Louis v. St. Louis, another water law dispute, reached the courts. This time the case involved a riparian landholder diverting water through a canal to his sawmill so that it bypassed the gristmill and carding and fulling mill of his downstream neighbours. Sewell, sitting this time in the Provincial Court of Appeals, again cited Kent, here in support of the proposition that a riparian landowner might ‘conduct such portion of the stream as he requires for the amelioration of his - property by canals or otherwise through the extent of the land which he occupies, but he must return it to the stream before it reaches the confines of his neighbour’s estate’.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Inter-imperial riparian law II: The Law in Miner v. Gilmour

Continuing where yesterday's post left off:

As the judges of the Privy Council recognized, the law governing the conflict between Miner and Gilmour over the waters of the Yamaska was not English law. Quebec, before being conquered by the British in 1760, had been part of the French Empire. A royal edict of 1663 had declared the law of New France to be the law as applied in the Parlement of Paris.  This law included royal ordinances, Roman law as expounded by jurists, and the sixteenth-century official collection of the customary law of Paris known as the Coutume de Paris. The Quebec Act of 1774, passed by the British Parliament a few years after the British conquest of Canada from France, declared that the laws of property existing in the province of Quebec pre-conquest would remain in force under British rule.

The water law applicable to the case at hand was thus the law of the old French Empire, that is to say the law of ancien régime Paris, ironically no longer in force in France itself after the adoption of the Napoleonic Code in 1804, but preserved in British colonies that had been conquered from the French. Indeed, the lawyers arguing the case before the British court in Westminster cited the civilian Digest of Justinian, the great French scholar Pothier and said Custom of Paris.
Sitting of a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
(Illustrated London News, vol. 8, no. 206, 11 April, 1846, p. 1)
The encounter between French and English law did not end with this infusion of French imperial law into a British imperial courtroom, nor with its application by British judges at the seat of imperial power. Despite the lack of formal authority for English common law in the civil-law jurisdiction of Canada East, the lawyers for Miner and Gilmour before the Privy Council cited not only the civilian sources mentioned above, but also recent English case law on the subject of riparian rights. The judges of the Judicial Committee were impressed with the ‘great learning and ingenuity’ displayed by counsel, and scheduled an unusual second round of oral arguments. Yet after all this learning and argument, they arrived at a surprising conclusion: ‘It did not appear that, for the purposes of this case, any material distinction exists between the French and the English law.’ According to both legal systems, the court opined, Miner could not demand that Gilmour keep the dam gate closed all the time, since a riparian proprietor had ‘no right to interrupt the regular flow of the stream, if he thereby interferes with the lawful use of the water by other proprietors, and inflicts upon them a sensible injury’.

The decision’s exposition of this and other principles of what Lord Kingsdown, writing for the court, termed the ‘general law applicable to running streams’—that is to say the law of riparian rights, according to him common to French and English law—went on to be cited extensively throughout the British Empire and beyond as the definitive statement of the rules of riparian rights in the common-law world, as will be discussed in a later post.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Inter-imperial riparian law I - Introduction: Inter-imperial law in an inter-imperial court

It seems I forgot to mention my own article when I posted it a while back. "Riparian Rights in Lower Canada and Canada East: Inter-Imperial Legal Influences" was published as chapter 4 of Imperial Co-operation and Transfer, 1870-1930: Empires and Encounters (Roland Cvetkovski & Volker Barth eds., Bloomsbury, 2015). I'll do a few posts based on the article now; for the full version, please see the book.

One of the most dynamic areas of law in the nineteenth-century Anglo-American world was that of water rights, or, as it was typically denoted then, “riparian rights”. This body of law dealt with the relative rights of owners of land adjacent to water—riparian land—to use the flowing waters, whether for power, irrigation, transportation, fishing, or waste disposal. The historical development of the law in this field in the nineteenth century has been analysed from several points of view, including economic property theory and Marxian legal history.  Transnational aspects of the subject have not been neglected, as some have highlighted the transatlantic—that is, Anglo-American—framework in which this body of doctrine developed, and others have examined the use of Continental, civil law sources by some of the American jurists responsible for that development.  Yet the inter-imperial aspect of this story, in particular the meeting of the laws of the British and French Empires, has gone unremarked.

The court case of Miner v. Gilmour can be seen as the epicentre of this inter-imperial encounter. The case began as a conflict in the 1850s between two prominent citizens of the Eastern Townships village of Granby, in the part of Canada then known as Canada East (in the half century preceding 1841 called Lower Canada, the southern part of today’s Quebec). Harlow Miner’s tannery on the south bank of the Yamaska River, the town’s major industrial enterprise, was powered by water directed from a dam in the river, but Francis Gilmour, the town’s store-keeper, had been opening a sluice on the north side of the dam in order to allow the water to flow through and power his gristmill downstream. In order to put a stop to Gilmour’s interference with his business, Miner brought a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the District of Montreal.  When the court ruled in Miner’s favour, ordering Gilmour to cease and desist diverting water away from Miner’s mill, Gilmour brought an appeal to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Canada. Here the decision went in his favour, and the court dismissed the plaintiff’s suit. Unsatisfied with this result, it was Miner who appealed this time, making use of the only remaining judicial recourse available to him, an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

The Privy Council, an organ of the British monarchy, was for years the executive body through which British overseas possessions were governed, also hearing appeals from the courts of these colonies. In 1833, in an effort to give these appeals a more judicial character, Parliament created the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, composed primarily of judges from other British high courts. Though formally not a court of law—the members of the committee did not wear judicial garb, they sat around a table with the parties’ counsel and their decisions were, strictly speaking, merely recommendations to the monarch, who would then issue an order giving force to the recommendation—in practice it functioned like a court, and was treated as such by all. This new judicial body was tasked with hearing appeals from overseas possessions (as well as from the British court of Admiralty and ecclesiastical courts).

The Judicial Committee, hearing cases from far-flung possessions around the globe, was an imperial institution par excellence. The nature of litigation in the common law, adversarial, system—in which the parties, not the state, generally determined if and when court proceedings would be conducted, and on what legal grounds—meant that the court’s agenda was largely shaped by the decisions of litigants in the courts below. Nonetheless the Judicial Committee’s worldwide jurisdiction, along with its judges’ parallel tenures on other British high courts, gave it a potentially harmonizing and homogenizing role; ‘The assumption was that there could be cohesion and certainty in the legal system of the Empire only if appeals could be referred up to a judicial body in London.’ (Cornish, Lobban, Smith, "Empire’s Law", p. 245)

At the same time the Judicial Committee was in effect an inter-imperial institution.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Environmental racism, American exceptionalism, and Cold War human rights

OAS headquarters in Washington
Carmen Gonzalez recently posted "Environmental Racism, American Exceptionalism, and Cold War Human Rights". The abstract:
Environmental justice scholars and activists coined the terms “environmental racism” to describe the disproportionate concentration of environmental hazards in neighborhoods populated by racial and ethnic minorities. Having exhausted domestic legal remedies (or having concluded that these remedies are unavailable), communities of color in the United States are increasingly turning to international human rights law and institutions to challenge environmental racism. 
However, the United States has ratified only a handful of human rights treaties, and has limited the domestic application of these treaties through reservations and declarations that preclude judicial enforcement in the absence of implementing legislation. Indeed, the U.S. has generally resisted scrutiny of its human rights record by domestic or international institutions on the basis of “American exceptionalism” -- the belief that the U.S. is unique in its commitment to freedom and equality and provides more robust protection of human rights than international law. What historical events triggered this resistance to international human rights law? What are the implications for human rights-based approaches to environmental protection? 
This article explains how the struggle for racial justice in the United States at the height of the Cold War shaped U.S. attitudes to international human rights law. Using Mossville Environmental Action Now v. United States as a case study (currently pending before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights), the article argues that international human rights law is far superior to U.S. domestic law as a means of addressing environmental injustice. However, its utility is constrained by legal doctrines developed over time but reinforced during the Cold War that restrict the enforcement of international human rights law in U.S. courts. Nevertheless, a victory for the Mossville petitioners would be immensely useful as part of a larger strategy to name and shame the United States, to bridge the gap between international law and domestic law, and to educate government officials and the public at large about the relationship between environmental protection and human rights.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Top 100 environmental blog

I'm happy to report that Feedspot has named Environment, Law, and History one of the top 100 environmental blogs. Thanks to all of you - the readers, writers, commenters, mentioners, and so on - who made it happen!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Dutch drinking water

David Zetland and Bene Colenbrander recently posted "The Evolution of the Dutch Drinking Water Sector". The abstract:
Dutch drinking water companies (DWCs) have brought more water of better quality to more people over the past 160 years, but their institutional environment has changed with social priorities. We divide these changes into four eras in which an initial solution leads to a new constraint that forces a change in priorities and thus DWC actions. The first era begins around 1850 when polluted common pool water attracts sellers of drinking water as a private good. Priorities changed around 1900 as the government pushed for a network expansion that would bring drinking water services to all as a public good. The third era began around 1950 as strains on common-pool budgets and water supplies shifted the focus to rationalization and efficiency. The fourth and current era began around 1970 with DWCs being asked to restore ecosystems and play a larger role in the community. These shifts demonstrate how the path towards clean, safe drinking water may twist and turn as new opportunities eclipse past successes and changing priorities shift the relative costs and benefits of different actions.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The tobacco playbook

(Sorry for the long silence, I've been busy with some other things. As always, if you're interested in contributing posts to the blog, I'd be more than happy to help! In the meantime:)

Sarah Milov (a co-founder of this blog) recently published a piece in the Washington Post on the history of grass-roots anti-tobacco campaigns that might serve as a model for climate activism today. Some highlights:
Activists won the fight against tobacco by working on the local, not national, level. Neither the Occupational Safety & Health Agency nor the Environmental Protection Agency regulate secondhand smoke. Congress has never passed a Non-Smokers’ Rights Act. Instead, 41 states and 1,354 cities have enacted laws to protect the health of citizens. They did so in response to the sustained activism of men and women who argued that the government was not doing enough to protect their rights.
*****
In 1973, the dogged efforts of Betty Carnes, a sexagenarian amateur ornithologist, resulted in Arizona’s passage of the first law that banned smoking in elevators, museums, theaters, buses and libraries. Two years later, Minnesota passed an even more comprehensive Clean Indoor Air Act that banned smoking in many workplaces, stores, and banks.
*****
These state-focused efforts threw a wrench in tobacco’s well-oiled lobbying machine. Since the 1930s, the tobacco industry had enjoyed close relationships with tobacco-state congressmen who wielded disproportionate power in the Democratic Party coalition. And with millions to spend on well-connected Washington lawyers, the tobacco industry wielded clout with the federal agencies that had the capacity to regulate the many ways that tobacco touched Americans’ lives: as a drug, a consumer product, a pollutant, or a workplace hazard. 
...By 1981, 36 states had some kind of public smoking restrictions on the books. A decade earlier there had been none.
Action at the local level was even more dramatic — and even harder for the industry to combat. Berkeley passed one of the nation’s earliest antismoking ordinances in 1977 when it banned smoking in restaurants, but local smoking ordinances were not just for bohemians and health nuts. In 1981 alone, 35 cities passed indoor smoking restrictions, including Baton Rouge; Leavenworth, Kan..; and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s hometown of Janesville, Wis.
*****
In the 1970s, antismoking activists were outnumbered and underfunded. But by developing their own playbook — where cities functioned as both a site for social activism and a node of resistance against federal inaction — citizens cleared the very air we breathe. Today’s citizens now have a chance to do the same. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Environmental originalism

Over at Legal Planet Dan Farber recently blogged on "The Truth About Environmental Originalism". Farber writes:
Scott Pruitt has taken to talking about environmental originalism – going back to the original intent of our environmental laws. But he’s got the original intent completely backwards. The statutes weren’t intended to protect jobs or grow the economy. They were intended to protect the environment, with cost at best a secondary consideration.
*****
In fact, some of the key provisions of our environmental laws preclude consideration of cost or even technological feasibility. For instance, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to set national air quality standards based entirely on possible risks to public health – and “with an adequate margin of safety.” As Justice Scalia himself was forced to admit in Whitman v. American Trucking Ass’n, the statute “unambiguously bars cost considerations.” In fact, he said in a footnote, EPA would be reversed in court there was proof that it secretly did take cost into account. (Pruitt might want to take note of this, given the number of leaks from the government these days.) As Scalia also recognized, these cost-oblivious air quality standards are the linchpin of the Clean Air Act. 
*****
This is not the only statutory provision that ignores costs. The Endangered Species Act prohibits agencies from jeopardizing the survival of species in absolute terms, with only a rarely used exception for extraordinary cases, requiring approval by a special cabinet-level committee. OSHA requires that standards for toxic chemicals in the workplace be set to eliminate any significant risk to workers, unless doing so would bankrupt the industry.
*****
It’s important to recognize that the federal environmental laws were passed in a time of remarkable public ferment over the environment. Don’t forget this was the era of the first Earth Day, of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, and of a public shocked by a fire on the Cuyahoga River and the Love Canal toxic dump. As I discuss in a recent paper, even arch-conservatives like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley were calling for much stricter pollution control. The public today remains broadly supportive of environmental regulation but the issue is no longer a top priority for most people. But it was an urgent priority in the 1970s when these laws were passed. The original intent was about as far away from current Republican views as humanly possible. If they could see that Scott Pruitt had become head of the EPA, the framers of these laws would have been appalled.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Property law and flooding

William Smyth Maynard Wolfe, “Maugerville on the St. John River, New Brunswick”
(1853/1854)
Continuing our trend on water, the Osgoode Society recently announced that Jason Hall has won its Peter Oliver Prize for best published student writing for his article, "High Freshets and Low-Lying Farms: Property Law and St. John River Flooding in Colonial New Brunswick". The abstract:
Although New Brunswick was founded on private land ownership, colonists who settled low-lying land along the St. John River found that the waterway's erratic flood cycle and ever-changing nature threatened their lives and farms, and thwarted their efforts to divide riverbanks and islands into fixed parcels of private  property. This article draws upon colonial petitions, sessional court records, and colonial legislation in analyzing the response of the colonial legislature and of local governance to the challenge that the St. John River created for property rights and a private land management system dependent on static boundaries and fixed fences. In examining the colonists' attempts to adapt property law to foster appropriate responses to their changing environment and social needs, this article provides insight into the evolution of colonial law, local governance, the ecological knowledge of farmers, social conflict, and adaptations to flooding in early New Brunswick.