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United States Environmental Law: Its Historic Roots, Its Uncertain Future Winter 2020

Cross-listed ENVI 13 / JLST 13

Class Details

Taught from the perspective of an experienced trial attorney, this course will examine the role environmental law plays in the United States today in light of how that role has developed during the nearly fifty years since the modern era of environmental law began. As a preface, we will consider the significantly more limited influence of environmental law in our national affairs before 1970 and some of the historical and political reasons for that situation. We will examine the reasons why the law’s early application in the first half of the 20th century almost exclusively to the conservation and preservation of natural resources took on in the second half a markedly different approach, one emphasizing pollution control and all but ignoring resource conservation. The course will begin by tracing the development of an American consciousness towards the environment through an examination of our law and our literature. The term “law” includes state and federal judicial decisions and legislation, particularly during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and during the decades which followed the year 1970 when much of the legal basis for the American environmental protection movement was established. The term “literature” includes not just the written word (the first book we look at is “The Lorax” by your favorite childhood author, Dr. Seuss, but also painting, sculpture, and music. Nothing too heavy! We will examine the historical and legal choices we as Americans have made which have put our environment on trial. What has occurred in our development as a people that explains this quintessentially American phenomenon? Our journey begins with the Puritans of New England and the planters of Virginia and their predecessors in the New World and then moves swiftly to the beginning of the modern era in environmental law and to its now uncertain future. In light of this historical situation students will examine state and federal legislative and judicial attempts to address environmental problems and then try to reach informed, rational conclusions as to whether those attempts were successful. What were the political, social and economic issues involved and, ultimately, how did their context affect the legal solutions imposed. Cases decided at the appellate level will be introduced and examined through their trial court memoranda opinions in order to observe how the legal system actually works and how frequently the reasoning and conclusions behind the trial judge’s decision changes as the case works its way through the appellate process. This course will be presented from a litigator’s point of view, that is to say, both the practical and the theoretical, emphasizing what is possible to achieve in the litigator’s real world as informed by what the academician would present from the security of the classroom. Evaluation will be based on attendance and classroom participation. Students will prepare several short papers, single-page “clerk’s notes,” which will present one or more sides of an issue and form the basis for classroom discussion. They will be asked to defend or reject the conclusions reached or approaches taken by our courts and legislatures and by our literature, as broadly defined, on environmental issues. Adjunct Instructor Bio: Philip R. McKnight ’65 is a trial and appellate attorney. At Williams he completed the honors program for both American History and Literature and European History and then he earned his law degree from The University of Chicago Law School and practiced in the state and federal courts of New York and Connecticut, as well as in Europe.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 15
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: five single-spaced, 1-page papers called "clerk's notes," class performance, including a team approach to the Pebble Mine, Alaska, permitting controversy
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: seniors first, then juniors, etc
Materials/Lab Fee: approximately $100 for books
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:

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