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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Rights and Wrongs: The Dark Canon of the United States Supreme Court in Environmental Law

  • Author(s): Houck, Oliver A.
  • et al.

This is the second in a series of critiques of the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on environmental law. The first series described three cases notable for their manipulation of facts and law and ill-concealed bias against environmental plaintiffs. One crippled the National Environmental Policy Act, the second crippled citizen standing to sue, and the third pivoted to undermine the safety of nuclear power plants.

The instant trio of cases add yet another troubling element to the canon. What distinguishes them, beyond the usual sleight-of-hand, is their failure to demonstrate the slightest understanding or concern for the plight of some of the most disadvantaged people on the planet. All of them brown.

The first case discussed, Northwest Indian Cemetery, denied First Amendment protection from the destruction of an entire Native American culture. The second case, Sandoval, effectively destroyed Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act. The third case, Kiobel, slipped the bounds of decency altogether by declaring corporations immune from actions under the Alien Tort Claims Act, expressly designed to provide damages for acts viewed by the entire world as beyond the pale.

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