LOS ANGELES — The General Mining Law of 1872 promised Americans who went west that whatever gold or other precious minerals they found would be theirs for the keeping — the main driver of the California Gold Rush that fueled the nation’s great westward expansion.
Almost 150 years later, gold miners in the west, who now prospect mostly as a hobby, are invoking the same law to sue states over moratoriums on the use of suction dredge mining equipment.
Miners are suing both states, arguing that their moratoriums on suction dredges to sift through gravel for specks of gold violate the federal mining law.
“It alleges that the state lacks power to prohibit mining on federal lands,” said James Buchal, a Portland, Oregon, lawyer who represents a consortium of gold miners in the lawsuits.
Miners scored a victory in California earlier this year when lower courts ruled in their favor, sending the case to the state Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear it.
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