Over two decades ago, Professor Christopher Stone asked what turned out to be a question of enduring interest: should trees have standing? His question was recently answered in the affirmative by a creek in Pennsylvania, which successfully intervened in a lawsuit between an energy company and a local township to prevent the lifting of a ban against drilling oil and gas wastewater wells. Using that intervention, this Article examines whether such an initiative might succeed on a broader scale. The Article parses the structure, language, and punctuation of Article III, as well as various theories of nonhuman personhood to see if, like corporations, the Constitution might be sufficiently capacious to allow nature direct access to Article III courts. Finding toeholds in these theories, the Article identifies some institutional and practical problems with allowing nature to appear directly in court. The Article suggests possible answers to these problems, such as limiting the type of cases brought by nature to those that involve important and/or irreplaceable resources threatened by government inaction and requiring that nature must be represented by lawyers who have sufficient expertise, commitment, and resources to prosecute her interests. While success is not guaranteed, nor can it ever be, the author hopes that others, like the lawyers representing Little Mahoning Creek, will petition for judicial relief in nature‘s name. Given the rigidity and hostility of the current Court‘s standing jurisprudence, the intransigence of Congress, and the over-crowded agenda of the Executive Branch, this may be the only way to protect our disappearing natural resources.
43 Ecology L.Q. 1.
Scholarly Commons Citation
Babcock, Hope M., "A Brook with Legal Rights: The Rights of Nature in Court" (2016). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. 1906.