PERSONHOOD: WHAT IT MEANS
This article by Lance Maggart appeared in the Summit Daily, November 30, 2017.
Flores-Williams and the Plaintiffs in the case are asking the court to declare the Colorado River a legal person and are not seeking a monetary award. While the personhood request has significance on many levels one of the most important aspects relates to the legal concept of “standing”. Standing, or locus standi, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a right to appear in a court or before any body on a given question, a right to be heard.”
In essence a party must have “standing” before that party can bring legal action, including lawsuits, against any other party. There are multiple aspects to standing in state and federal courts but key aspects of standing include requiring the plaintiff to show the plaintiff has suffered some injury or harm – not necessarily physical – showing the injury has a connection to the conduct brought before the court, and showing that favorable action from the court will redress the injury.
Because the Colorado River is not considered a legal person it has no formal right to standing, no matter the particular circumstances surrounding a given issue. If the Colorado River is declared a legal person it could have “standing” regarding a host of issues and could potentially sue to protect its rights.
The plaintiffs in the case, who are asking the court to declare them as “next friends” capable of representing the river in court, would be able to bring legal action on behalf of the river in circumstances where the river is deemed to have standing.
There are many examples of nonhuman entities existing as “legal persons” including corporations and nations though there are very few examples of environmental features being declared “legal persons.” MORE…