Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Legacy of Professor Ronald Dworkin and Lessons for Climate Change

Professor Dworkin, Professor at NYU Law School and Professor Emeritus at University College London, passed away on February 15, 2013. The legal world has lost a giant, but his work endures. 

I was first introduced to Professor Dworkin's work as part of my mandatory jurisprudence course, while studying law at the National Law School of India University. My professor, an avid follower of Professor H.L.A.Hart, nevertheless introduced us to Professor Dworkin's work, leaving us to be judges of which philosophy was more persuasive. Honestly, it was not a task that many of us were prepared to undertake at that point.

However, over the years, I have come to appreciate the short introduction to legal philosophy and to the works of keen jurists such as Professor Dworkin. While far from fully understanding the sophistication of all his arguments, his core philosophy that law and morality are reconcilable resonate strongly now.

While thinking about his work, I reverted back to one of the first articles of Professor Dworkin that I attempted to read in a thick hardbound copy of the Harvard Law Review years back--Hard Cases (88 Harv. L. Rev. 1057 (1975)). While the Westlaw version is less thicker and more accessible, the contents remain breathtakingly broad-ranging and complex. Nevertheless, as I read through it, I am reminded of one "hard case" that is out there pending adjudication--the matter of climate torts.

I would be lying if I said that by reading Professor Dworkin's essay, I have come up with a philosophical framework for addressing climate torts. However, it may be an interesting project to go through the essay in search of a meaningful framework by which we can think through the hard case of climate change. For now, let me say that I have found one starting point in this sentence explaining his core thesis in the essay:

"I propose,..., the thesis that judicial decisions in civil cases, even in hard cases..., characteristically are and should be generated by principle not policy." (p. 1060).

The question then is, when we are dealing with hard civil cases such as climate change, where a decision will have global impacts, what is the principle that judges should pursue? Perhaps, I will have some thoughts after I have carefully read Professor Dworkin's essay again.






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