"The Increasing Role of Constitutionalism in Environmental Law: It's Less Boring Than That Suggests!"

Posted on February 17, 2010 by James R. May

On February 26, 2010, Dan Farber, Doug Kysar, Rob Glicksman and I will be on a panel at Georgetown about emerging issues at the intersection of Constitutional and Environmental Law. We'll puzzle over recent developments and the constitutional shape of environmental law to come. There is much to discuss. We have the limitations on judicial involvement, say, the political question doctrine and the treaty clause in the context of climate litigation. Summer suggests that Scalian standing is alive and well, and that procedural standing is hardly, er, left standing. And then there are 1:1 ratio limits to awards of punitive damages in cases involving environmental harm with which to contend under substantive due process.

Federalism could experience resurgence. Oneida and Kelo give the states an opening to do more (and do worse). Yet preemption still looms large (as with cap & trade), and sovereign immunity jurisprudence has diminished state accountability.

And of course, there is an enfeebled Congress, which behaves as if its powers are as a majority of the Supreme Court imagined them to be in 1935. While non-delegation is still in desuetude, and Raich revived rational basis review of Commerce Clause authority for the time being, it's any wonder that Congress delivers so little about national environmental challenges these days. Or anything else, for that matter. But if we're really at war, then how about Congress using its war powers to address environmental challenges that impinge upon national security, like climate change? And does Missouri v. Holland give Congress authority unbridled by the 10th Amendment to address international environmental issues, say, water pollution? Climate change?

Which brings us back to Article II separation of powers, and Chevron. For the next 2 1/2 years, all may learn to love Justice Alito's interpretive approach in last term's Kensington.

What does the future hold? Who knows, except for ineffective congressional responses and a Supreme Court that seems at least skeptical about national environmental programs. So maybe a constitutional devolution of sorts. Opportunities abound for constitutional innovation under the General Welfare and Due Process Clauses, or invocation of state (here and elsewhere) provisions that putatively provide a right to a healthy environment.

And if judicial takings are constitutionally cognizable (this term's Beach Renourishment), then why not sustainable development under the Privileges & Immunities or Equal Protection Clauses, or the 9th Amendment?

Or maybe not. It is, after all, a constitution we are expounding.



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