State Supreme Court Decides Cornelius v. Ecology, Rejecting "As Applied" Constitutional Challenge to Municipal Water Law
On February 12, 2015, the Washington Supreme Court decided Cornelius v. Ecology, affirming changes in well locations for water rights held by Washington State University to serve its campus in Pullman, Washington. In the first appellate decision on a purported “as applied” challenge to Washington’s 2003 Municipal Water Law, the Supreme Court rejected Cornelius’ argument that due process and the doctrine of separation of powers required relinquishment of water rights held by WSU since the early 1960’s. The Court has yet to act on a pending motion for reconsideration filed by Mr. Cornelius on March 3, 2015, in which he argued that the Court misunderstood his “separation of powers” claim.
Cornelius unsuccessfully raised many other non-constitutional challenges to WSU’s water rights. For example, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that WSU had not employed reasonable diligence in putting all its water rights to use, refusing to “punish WSU for taking water conservation measures.” These non-constitutional aspects of the Court’s decision deserve greater attention, but for now are overshadowed by Cornelius’ much-ballyhooed “as applied” constitutional challenge. TMW attorney Sarah Mack served as Special Assistant Attorney General representing Washington State University in this case. In an article published in the April 2015 issue of Western Water Law & Policy Reporter, Sarah Mack explores the constitutional issues resolved by the Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision.