Sierra Club v. Morton [known to some as the "Should Trees Have Standing" case - DS] is a seminal 1972 U.S. Supreme Court case on standing, the essential procedural question of who has a legal right to initiate a lawsuit based on a plaintiff’s alleged injury traceable to a defendant’s unlawful conduct. Daniel Selmi’s new book provides a deep dive into the history and context of this famous case, showing that it was about much more than the majority decision’s denial of the Sierra Club’s standing. And it was not, as some have claimed, launched as a test case to establish standing for environmental groups or the entities themselves, the possibility William O. Douglas went into in his famous dissent dear to the hearts of those interested in the Rights of Nature.
Despite the fact that Selmi seeks to de-center standing in his history of the case, or at least destabilize the understanding that standing was what Sierra Club v. Morton was always meant to be about, he presents an excellent and thorough discussion of the issue. Selmi explains that the Sierra Club insisted on its general interest in a case that would impact the environment of concern to its members rather than Club members’ actual use of the area, which the Supreme Court indicated it would have accepted. As Justice White reportedly put it: “Why didn’t the Sierra Club have one goddamn member walk through the park and then there would have been standing to sue.” (P. 204.)