The Supreme Court this morning appointed Stanford Law School professor Barton "Buzz" Thompson to be special master in the case of Montana v. Wyoming, a water dispute over the Yellowstone River compact of 1950. Montana claims its upstream neighbor Wyoming is taking more than its fair share of water as spelled out in the compact. The case comes to the Court directly through its original jurisdiction over conflicts between states. As a result, the Court appoints a master to conduct the kind of fact-finding that is done by lower court judges in non-original cases. The master then reports and makes a recommendation to the justices, which the states get to debate in oral arguments. The parties share the costs of the master's fees and other expenses.
Thompson is an environmental and water law expert and, like many special masters, is a former Supreme Court law clerk. Thompson clerked for the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist 30 years ago. Stanford colleague Pamela Karlan said of Thompson today, "He's smart, fair, and a good listener, so combined with his expertise in property, water law, and natural resources law, he's a natural for this kind of work."