Monday, July 17, 2017

In Coal Country, a Law School Pushes for Human Rights

West Virginia College  of Law has announced a new Appalachian Justice Initiative to take on a range of issues facing the region.  Chief among the Initiative's concerns are environmental issues and workplace conditions, both of which have been framed as human rights issues by West Virginia faculty participating in the new Initiative.

 In the April 2017 issue of the University of Miami Law Review, Professor Anne Marie Lofaso argued that the "natural human rights" standard should serve as a floor for labor practices.  Her six-part analysis ranges from a historical review of labor law through an analysis of relevant international law and the meaning of citizenship.  

Meanwhile, in a July 14, 2017 essay, West Virginia Professor Nicholas Stump asks the question "Is a health environment a human right?"  Stump explains that "In my work, I have proposed reframing Appalachia's concerns as a struggle for "environmental human rights" – the idea that all people are entitled to a healthy environment. Characterizing these problems as violations of environmental human rights can open up new and more robust legal remedies. It also means that environmental harms will be viewed more vigorously as moral issues." 

In announcing its new initiative, the College of Law stated that "Law schools have been at the center of a sustained—and often heated—debate concerning the relevance of legal education and scholarship.  Moreover, this election cycle has cast a bright light on the decades-old fact that our economically disenfranchised neighbors, generally, and our Appalachian brothers and sisters living in poverty, specifically, have been left behind by the entire American political establishment." 

The West Virginia faculty believe that "law schools, legal education, and legal scholarship can and should be relevant again” and that they have an important role to play in improving the welfare of the people of Appalachia.  Kudos to the West Virginia law faculty as they make a commitment to human rights in their own backyard.

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