In 1972, Professor Chris Stone published an article titled “Should Trees Have Standing?” In his essay, Stone called upon the Supreme Court to expand the legal concept of standing, which determines whether parties have the opportunity to have their cases heard in court. Stone proposed that the courts relax the rules of standing to identify and appoint groups, or guardians, to act as legal representatives for natural objects such as trees and rivers.
In Sierra Club v. Morton, the Supreme Court effectively denied Stone’s request to expand standing. Instead of allowing groups to directly represent natural objects, the Court implemented a direct user standing test. By creating this test, the Court indicated to the Sierra Club that environmental groups are not allowed to file suit on behalf of the groups’ own abstract environmental interests, but would allow groups to file suit on behalf of the more concrete interests of their members. The Court rejected Stone’s request on the grounds that the legal interests of the natural objects Stone and the Sierra Club wanted to protect could not be objectively defined.
As a result of the Court’s decision, environmental interests have been left poorly protected in the courts. Instead of advocating for environmental values per se, litigators are forced to sue on behalf of individuals who demonstrate a particularized interest in the environmental objects in question. This study seeks to investigate whether the lack of standing for natural objects can be legally resolved in a way that grants legal protection to natural objects.
Albert Lin, ’12
Majors: Philosophy, Environmental Studies, Politics
Sponsor: Craig Allin