Date of Submission

Spring 2022

Academic Program


Project Advisor 1

Lauraleen Ford

Abstract/Artist's Statement

What is, has been, and could be the role of litigation in the U.S. environmental justice movement? To what ends do Indigenous communities, federally-recognized tribes, and rural Black communities choose to engage with the U.S. legal system, an institution which has, over history, consistently subjugated and dispossessed them? How do these groups' particularistic relationships to natural and built environments, conceptions of justice and fairness, and understandings of what effective environmental regulation look like inform that choice? This paper draws from in-depth qualitative research to demonstrate the following things: (1) how environmental justice lawsuits differ from canonical environmental and civil rights litigation on the basis of balancing rhetorical and social-equity based claims with strictly-legal arguments, (2) the way in which litigation serves as a key mechanism through which environmental justice constituencies can gain more accountability from government agencies and participate more fully in environmental decision making, and (3), how the processes and secondary effects of litigation can act as sites of movement building and cross-organization collaboration, and mechanisms through which to educate the broader public on environmental justice considerations. Finally, I posit a theory of litigation which suggests that engagement with the legitimacy of the legal system and the compelling nature of litigation within regulatory settings can constitute a more integrational–rather than assimilative–incorporation of environmental justice constituencies into American civil society.

Open Access Agreement

Open Access

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

This work is protected by a Creative Commons license. Any use not permitted under that license is prohibited.