The Political Question Doctrine: An Update in Response to Recent Case Law

01.01.2012
38 Ecology Law Quarterly 1033

The United States has been slow to take steps to mitigate the effects of climate change. Yet climate change is impacting many of its citizens in the form of rising sea levels, increased storm intensity, deeper droughts, and more frequent wildfires. Several plaintiff groups filed public nuisance and other tort claims against automakers and electric power companies for injuries the plaintiffs incurred from climate change. Unfortunately, district courts dismissed these cases under the political question doctrine, failing to reach the merits of the case. The application of the political question doctrine to these climate change cases, which were in essence complex tort cases, was erroneous. These cases demonstrate that the political question doctrine in its current form lacks definition in terms of scope and principle. This Note examines the principles upon which the doctrine is based and the role of the courts in United States to argue for a re-articulated political question doctrine that is narrowed in scope, such that it would not be applied to complex yet justiciable cases.

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