Sunday, March 30, 2008

Saving the World Is Not the Court's Job...

One of my Caltech classmates posted a story on her Facebook about a man who is suing to stop a physics experiment. He thinks a giant particle accelerator that will begin smashing protons together outside Geneva this summer might produce a black hole or something else that will spell the end of the Earth — and maybe the universe.The lawsuit, filed March 21 in Federal District Court, in Honolulu, seeks a temporary restraining order prohibiting CERN from proceeding with the accelerator until it has produced a safety report and an environmental assessment. Federal agencies (like the Department of Energy) are also named as defendants since they provide funds for the project. Read the full article HERE.

While my former classmate and fellow Techers focused on the scientific aspects of the story (whether or not a a world-destroying black hole is possible) I want to focus on the legal aspects of the case.

Since the case was filed in a federal court the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure apply. From a legal point of view this case is interesting. The article mentioned all sorts of jurisdictional problems. In addition to this there seems to be a failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Under FRCP 12(b)(6), a defendant may get a case dismissed if the law suit does not allege a wrong doing which the court has the power/authority to correct. Courts are reluctant to tell another branch of government how to spend money unless there is some sort of violation of rights (statutory or constitutional). While I have not seen the original complaint, I find it hard to believe that the plaintiff could claim that his rights are violated since no direct government action is involved here. The suit does allege violation to the National Environmental Policy Act which requires an environmental impact report to be filed with the EPA, but since CERN is a european entity on foreign soil this law does not seem to apply. Basically under this theory the court might say that even assuming that he is right about the end of the world, they don't have the authority to stop it.

Also this guy might not have standing. It has been long held that simply being a taxpayer does not give you standing to bring a lawsuit over what the government does with your money. Just like you can't sue the government for injunctive relief to stop making tanks because you pay taxes and oppose war, you can't sue the government to stop them from destroying the earth simply because you are taxpayer and like earth.

The court might also just punk out and say that the entire thing is non-justiciable, so they can't get involved. The court might argue that it's the job of congress to stop world destruction and not the courts. Because of this, separation of powers does not allow the court to make policy decision involved in such a case. Isn't law fun?