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What the Supreme Court talks about when it talks about environmental law

About the project

Status: archive

Project team: Mark Algee-Hewitt, Ryan Heuser, Franco Moretti;

Collaborators: Michael Burger;

Start date: Jun 1, 2016

End date: Sep 1, 2017

Last updated: Dec 31, 2017

Based on the corpus of environmental law cases decided by the Supreme Court since the early 1970s, this study examines the role played by two fundamental and conflicting articulations of the Court’s rationale: what we are preliminarily calling “substantive environmental consciousness”, or “environmentality,” and the counterpoint provided – with increasing strength after the 1984 decision in Chevron vs. NRDC – by deference owed to administrative agencies. “What the Supreme Court talks about…” traces the clash between these two principles to the linguistic texture of the Court’s decisions, following the changing balance between keywords and turns of phrase that were and are typical of environmental discussions, the growing presence of specific citations to key cases, and comparable strategies that are both specific to legal discourse and more broadly applicable. Like other projects on post-war discourses, this is a study in how a changing political, social and cultural climate creates such a thick linguistic atmosphere that its choices appear perfectly natural, and perhaps even inevitable.