Freedom from Thirst: A Right to Basic Household Water
by Martha F. Davis, Social Science Research Network
In the United States, the idea that household water for drinking and basic hygiene is a constitutional right has seldom been embraced. The U.S. Constitution does not directly mention water. The United States even abstained from the United Nations vote to recognize an international human right to water in 2010.
With the COVID-19 pandemic as a backdrop, this article suggests a roadmap for recognizing the constitutional status of household water for drinking and basic hygiene. In Part I of this article, Martha F. Davis offers a snapshot of the treatment of household water in times of economic hardship, suggesting that there are deep roots for according water a special status. In Part II, she traces the trajectory of the right to water in the international human rights context, where over time, water’s significance and unique qualities overcame objections that the right was not explicitly articulated in founding international law documents. Part III examines the status of the right to water as a matter of comparative law, looking at foreign constitutional provisions and case law to understand the potential scope of the legal right. Part IV applies these lessons to drinking water in the domestic state and federal constitutional contexts. Davis conclude that access to basic drinking water is not only an international human right, but should also be a recognized federal constitutional right, as a component of the substantive due process protections of life and liberty.