April 15, 2009
This fall, students in Richard Lazarus’s Advanced Environmental Law course were deeply engaged with environmental law literature in somewhat non-traditional ways. Over the course of the semester, students attended oral arguments for two major environmental cases at the Supreme Court, participated in discussions with lead counsel from both sides of the cases, and even observed a moot argument for a case only a week before it was heard by the Court.
For Lazarus, the key to the success of the class was immersing students into a few select environmental law topics rather than considering numerous topics at a more superficial level.
“From a pedagogical perspective, a pending Supreme Court case can be wonderful – so much better than just having the students read a decided case. The advocacy is frequently excellent, and the briefs allow the students to explore the opposing arguments and tactical maneuvering embraced by the parties and their associated amici in great detail,” he explained.
Students in the class welcomed Lazarus approach. “Because the focus of the class was on depth instead of breadth, we had the opportunity to read materials that are rarely encountered in law school classes: lower court briefs and opinions, statutory language, and administrative agency reports and proposals, for example,” said Kate Bowers ’09.
In one case, Winters v. NRDC, students were involved in all stages. At issue in the case was a lower court’s injunction against the Navy to stop the use of sonar in training exercises.
In conference calls with Solicitor General Greg Garre and Joel Reynolds, who represented NRDC, students discussed their strategies. A week before the argument at the Court, students helped to prepare questions for a moot, which was judged by HLS Professors Jody Freeman S.J.D. ’95, Matthew Stephenson ’03, Adrian Vermeule ’93, and John Manning ’85. Several students attended the oral argument, and after the opinion was issued on April 1, NRDC oralist Richard Kendall met with the class to discuss his reaction to the ruling.
Because Lazarus himself was representing one of the sides in another Supreme Court case this term—Entergy v. Riverkeeper—students also had an inside look at the strategizing that went into that argument. Several students in the class were also able to observe the oral argument in that case, which raised the issue of whether the EPA may employ a cost-benefit analysis in determining the best technology available to reduce the environmental impact of cooling water intake structures.