Standing for trees, redux

The Sunday Boston Globe includes this lengthy piece by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow on the revival of arguments first made in the 1970s that nature should be granted legal rights and perhaps even standing in court. USC law professor Chris Stone argued in a celebrated 1972 article that places like the Mineral King valley should be allowed to stand as plaintiffs in their own right, with the help of human attorneys or guardians ad litem. He managed to convince Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, but not a majority of the Court. Now the Center for Earth Jurisprudence and Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund are raising Stone’s arguments for intrinsic rights for nature and broad standing to allow defense of those rights, anew.

In Tuhus-Dubrow’s article, Stone points out that forcing people to demonstrate standing on the basis of their intent to visit a site obscures what for many environmental advocates is the fundamental issue, the intrinsic importance of nature. University of Maryland philosopher Mark Sagoff responds that “nature” is not a single thing, and entities within nature are constantly in conflict with one another. In his view,“Granting rights to nature would just be a distraction from the policy progress we’ve made.”

Read Tuhus-Dubrow’s piece, Stone’s article (published at 45 S. Cal. L. Rev. 450 (1972), available through Hein OnLine for those who have access), and the Supreme Court’s decision in Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972), and draw your own conclusions.

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Reader Comments

2 Replies to “Standing for trees, redux”

  1. Philospoher Mark Sagoff has a narrow view of ecology if he assumes that “entities within nature” are in constant conflict with one another, for while competition for resources arguably exists, cooperation and symbiosis are the more prevalent types of relationships involved. Moreover, entities in nature do not function as atomistic entities vying for their own survival, they are part of complex communities and networks that working/eating/pooping/decomposing/synthesizing together maintain the whole.

    His outlook is one more characteristic of free-market global capitalism, then self-sustaining ecosystems.

  2. Does anyone, by chance, know of any cases brought under a municipal ordinance such as the one in the Boston Globe article in which there was an issue of legal standing for an animal or a natural object? If so, can you please email me the names, I’ve had no luck searching as of yet. Thanks. the email is [email protected]

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About Holly

Holly Doremus is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation at UC Berkeley. Doremus brings a strong background in life sciences and a comm…

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