The United States Supreme Court has appointed Stanford Woods Institute Co-Director Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson as a special master in a years-long battle between Montana and Wyoming over their respective water rights. 

Montana and Wyoming each argue that the other has violated the Yellowstone River Compact of 1950, an agreement that governs water use in a basin that includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Their legal battle has already lasted more than six years.

The U.S. Supreme Court is now relying on Thompson, the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law at the Stanford Law School, to help it resolve the case. While the Court typically hears cases on appeal, it has original jurisdiction in all cases involving disputes between states. This means that feuding states can take their case directly to the Court without first having to go to a trial court. When these cases arise, the Court usually appoints a special master to conduct what amounts to a trial and then make recommendations to the Court.

Thompson's law career has included time as a partner at O’Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, as a lecturer at the UCLA School of Law and as a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

Thompson is Chairman of the Board of the Resources Legacy Fund and the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, a California trustee for The Nature Conservancy and a board member of the American Farmland Trust and the Sonoran Institute. He previously served as a member of the Science Advisory Board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Thompson is also a senior fellow (by courtesy) at Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Thompson’s current role is not his first experience serving as a special master, nor his first time helping settle water challenges between Montana and Wyoming. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed Thompson as a special master in Montana v. Wyoming (137 Original).