Imagine trying to widen a highway and coming up against a protracted lawsuit. The plaintiff is a tree, 50 yards from the roadway, which does not want more traffic further disrupting its peace.
Consider breaking ground to build a home, only to get a stop-work order. The dirt has filed a lawsuit. Court papers claim the soil objects to disruption and relocation, and has a right to due process.
The plaintiffs will settle their suits for nothing, as neither has use for money. Neither tree nor dirt can show up in court for discovery or pre-trial hearings. The nonhuman plaintiffs have unlimited patience. They serve as formidable foes no one can reason with on human terms.
This silly hypothetical won’t be far-fetched if a group of activists succeeds in obtaining personhood for the Colorado River ecosystem, which they have listed as the plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against Colorado.
In its suit, the ecosystem complains of hypothetical future injuries caused by progress. State government is responsible for allowing or causing the problems, which the ecosystem intends to stop with a favorable ruling protecting it from potential activities.
“The case, the first of its kind in the United States, has the potential to shift American environmental law by granting nature a legal standing,” explains the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Supporters of the case want to inspire more “rights of nature” litigation throughout the country, to achieve humanlike legal protections for nonhuman objects.
“The complaint alleges hypothetical future injuries that are neither fairly traceable to actions of the state of Colorado, nor redressable by a declaration that the ecosystem is a ‘person’ capable of possessing rights,” states the Colorado Attorney General’s Office in a motion seeking dismissal.
The case names environmentalists as “next friends” of the ecosystem. All are members of Deep Green Resistance, an organization with a stated goal to “deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet.”
“Next friends” claim the river can sue because the U.S. Supreme Court granted legal rights to corporations in the 2010 Citizens United case.
They apparently believe a river is no less human than a corporation, which is far from true. Corporations are the manifestation of one or more persons working toward common goals. Law establishes corporations and determines what the people who comprise them may do.
Conversely, nature creates rivers and their ecosystems.
Rocks, trees, dirt, water and riparian zones are not human beings capable of creating, obeying or manipulating laws.
Humans should respect nature and care for it. They should use the courts, when necessary, to protect nature.
In the unlikely event a court grants personhood to objects, we can expect suits from trees pleading with judges to turn them into lumber. Mountains will sue to be mined. Expect every abuse persons may contrive, if allowed to pretend they are objects.
A judge should laugh this dopey case out of the courthouse and admonish the individuals who fraudulently cited nature as a plaintiff. Warn them against mocking the courts.
The Gazette editorial board
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