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Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife: The Supreme Court's Slash and Burn Approach to Environmental Standing

January 1993

Citation: ELR 10031

Author: Karin P. Sheldon

Editors' Summary: Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (Defenders), the Supreme Court's June 1992, decision limiting environmentalists' standing to challenge agency programs, envisions judges' roles in environmental law strikingly different than the roles judges have often played before. Justice Scalia's plurality opinion articulates a limited role for the judiciary, anchored in the belief that government's programmatic decisions and rules of general application are normally inappropriate for judicial review. Justice Scalia had previewed this doctrine in his majority opinion in a 1990 landmark decision, Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation (NWF). However, Justice Scalia's 1992 opinion moves beyond his opinion in NWF, focussing not only on the standing requirement of injury in fact, but the redressability requirement as well. Moreover, his opinion limits the applicability of the citizen suit provision of the Endangered Species Act, and by association comparable provisions in a number of other environmental statutes. In this Article, the author builds on her prior work, NWF v. Lujan: Justice Scalia Restricts Environmental Standing to Constrain the Courts, 20 ELR 10557 (1990), examining Justice Scalia's 1992 opinion and the direction he appears to be leading the Supreme Court in environmental standing cases. The author reviews the essential principles of standing, provides a summary of the Defenders litigation and its significance, and considers some tactical options for environmental practitioners.

Ms. Sheldon is Vice President for Conservation and General Counsel of The Wilderness Society, a national environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of wilderness and the protection and wise management of the public lands. She also teaches federal natural resources law at George Washington University Law School.

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