The Environmental Movement and the Supreme Court

Professor Jon Cannon's New Book Explores How Justices Have Interacted With, and Shaped, the Environmental Movement
Professor Jon Cannon and his new book

Professor Jon Cannon's "Environment in the Balance: The Green Movement and the Supreme Court" offers a legal and cultural analysis of U.S. Supreme Court environmental decisions.

April 15, 2015

University of Virginia School of Law professor Jon Cannon's new book examining the U.S. Supreme Court's role in environmental policy offers insights on why the environmental movement has fallen short of its goal.

Cannon, a former general counsel for the Environmental Protection Agency and director of the school's Environmental and Land Use Law Program, explores the justices' views and values on key environmental cases before the court in "Environment in the Balance: The Green Movement and the Supreme Court."

The book, published by Harvard University Press, covers 30 of the most significant Supreme Court environmental cases dating back to 1970.

"On close analysis, the language of [the court's] opinions gives clues about the values animating those opinions," Cannon said. "Over a range of opinions, these clues add up to a pretty clear picture of cultural differences between and among the justices on environmental issues. I use the results of that analysis in a broader assessment of environmentalism and its progress, or lack thereof, in society."

In analyzing the opinions in the 30 cases, Cannon read related background information, including briefs, lower court opinions, and oral arguments before the court. He also visited the Library of Congress to read the unpublished papers of justices that shed light on the court's deliberations.

"I wanted to get a sense of the context in which a case was decided and how the justices understood the case when the decision was issued," Cannon said. "The book interprets the opinions in these cases not just as legal texts, but as cultural texts. I focus on the connotative meanings, the tone of the opinion, and the story that the opinion is telling, as well as the doctrine and holding of the case. I use this approach to get at the beliefs and values that may be animating the thinking of the justices beyond the confines of a traditional legal analysis."

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