In the article “Why We Need National Water Affordability Legislation,” Law Professor Sharmila L. Murthy argues that access to safe and affordable water for drinking, hygiene and sanitation has attained a status that falls short of a constitutional right but that nevertheless has attained near-constitutional significance.

Murthy’s article, published in the Harvard Law and Policy Review, she writes that “The U.S. never ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—the relevant human rights treaty under which such a right exists in international law—and it would be difficult to establish this as an affirmative right under our existing constitutional jurisprudence. However, a right to safe and affordable water should be treated as what Cass Sunstein describes as a “constitutive commitment” deserving of legislative protection.”

Murthy, whose research interests include environmental law, poverty and human rights, has written about the water crisis in Flint, water shut-offs in Detroit and Baltimore, and water-related issues in India. She is the co-founder of the Human Rights to Water and Sanitation Program at Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. She teaches property law, environmental law, international environmental law, and a course on global poverty and human rights at Suffolk University Law School.

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