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Richard Lazarus

  • U.S. Supreme Court building, looking up towards the sky from the bottom of the stairs.

    Harvard Law faculty weigh in: The 2021-2022 Supreme Court Term

    June 25, 2022

    Harvard Law School experts weigh in on the Supreme Court’s final decisions.

  • Cases in Brief: Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife with Richard Lazarus

    April 29, 2022

    In this installment of “Cases in Brief,” Harvard Law Professor Richard Lazarus ’79 discusses the landmark citizen-suit case, Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife (1992), which hindered the ability to bring environmental citizen suits for much of the 1990s.

  • A globe of planet earth on the background of blurred lights of a city.

    Inspiring change

    April 22, 2022

    On Earth Day, we highlight some of the work being done by Harvard Law students, scholars, clinics, and programs to address some our most pressing environmental issues.

  • Suing over climate change: Taking fossil fuel companies to court

    April 18, 2022

    If climate change were a disaster film, it would likely be accused of being too over-the-top: wildfires reducing entire towns to ashes, hurricanes swamping cities, droughts draining lakes and withering fields, and raging oceans redrawing the very maps of our coasts. And now, many cities and states are asking, who's going to pay for all of this? ... Richard Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at Harvard, said, "The scope of the problem is one that requires really a national approach. Cities and counties and states are being the ones left with the problem when the federal government doesn't step up to the plate." Lazarus said even if the cities and states prove the fossil fuel companies deceived the public about climate change, it doesn't necessarily mean they will win: "They've done a really good job of showing that the oil and gas industry, I think, engaged in fraudulent activity. The challenge will be causation, to prove that their fraudulent behavior is what prevented the United States from passing the laws we needed to reduce those greenhouse gas emissions."

  • Supreme Court hints at constraining Biden on climate

    March 3, 2022

    The Supreme Court looks likely to limit the executive authority to issue sweeping climate rules without new legislation, but it's unclear if they'll unite around broader limits on regulatory power. Catch up fast: The high court held arguments Monday in related cases about now-defunct regulations to curb carbon emissions from the electricity sector, the second-largest U.S. source of heat-trapping gases. A few takeaways: 1. New limits appear likely. Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus said there appear to be six votes to "align" the case with recent rulings against the federal eviction moratorium and vaccine mandates. That would prompt the court to "sharply cut back on EPA’s authority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants," he said via email.

  • In EPA Supreme Court case, the agency’s power to combat climate change hangs in the balance

    February 28, 2022

    President Biden’s ambitious plans to combat climate change, blocked by an uncooperative Congress, face an equally tough test next week at the Supreme Court. With the court’s conservative justices increasingly suspicious that agencies are overstepping their powers, the case’s outcome could not only reshape U.S. environmental policy but also call into question the authority of regulators to tackle the nation’s most pressing problems. ... Biden’s team has yet to issue its own plan for the power sector. For that reason, environmentalists took it as an “earthquake” when the Supreme Court accepted the case last fall, said Harvard Law School professor Richard Lazarus. It appeared to signal a move on the part of the court’s conservatives to delineate — and probably trim — the EPA’s powers before there were even regulations to review. ... The policy that sparked this battle — the Clean Power Plan — is now moot, since the market has done what regulators could not. “The targets were achieved way in advance, more than a decade before they would have been required,” said Carrie Jenks, executive director of Harvard’s Environmental & Energy Law Program.

  • Supreme Court Will Hear Biggest Climate Change Case in a Decade

    February 28, 2022

    In the most important environmental case in more than a decade, the Supreme Court on Monday will hear arguments in a dispute that could restrict or even eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to control the pollution that is heating the planet. ... “If the court were to require the E.P.A. to have very specific, narrow direction to address greenhouse gases, as a practical matter it could be devastating for other agencies’ abilities to enact rules that safeguard the public health and welfare of the nation,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “It would restrict the enactment of regulations under any host of federal statutes — OSHA, the Clean Water Act, hazardous waste regulation. In theory it even could limit the Fed’s authority to set interest rates.” ... “The regulated industry itself is saying that they are not fighting the authority of E.P.A.,” said Jody Freeman, a lawyer at Harvard and former climate official in the Obama White House. “The court will be attentive, I think, to what the industry says,” she said, noting that in a recent case over the Biden administration’s Covid vaccine mandate for large employers, the Supreme Court blocked the mandate except in the case of health care workers, who requested the regulation.

  • With Breyer’s Exit, a Farewell to Marshmallow Guns and Tomato Children

    February 2, 2022

    Justice Stephen G. Breyer has a mild temperament, and he writes cautious opinions. But his questions from the bench can be wild flights of fancy, enlivening the proceedings with musings about marshmallow guns, aspirin fingers, tomato children and the Pussycat Burglar. In an affectionate tribute issued soon after Justice Breyer announced last week that he planned to retire, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. noted this striking aspect of his colleague’s work. ... “Breyer’s unique signature at oral argument — which challenged and often befuddled lawyers appearing before the bench — was the sheer length of his questions,” Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard, wrote in an essay published on Friday.

  • Judges Increasingly Demand Climate Analysis in Drilling Decisions

    January 31, 2022

    A judge’s decision this week to invalidate the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in the nation’s history, on grounds that the government had failed to take climate change into consideration, shows that regulatory decisions that disregard global warming are increasingly vulnerable to legal challenges, analysts said Friday. ... “This would not have been true 10 years ago for climate analysis,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard University. He said it is “a big win” that courts are forcing government agencies to include “a very robust and holistic analysis of climate” as part of the decision-making when it comes to whether or not to drill on public lands and waters.

  • The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021

    Pragmatic Justice

    January 27, 2022

    Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer ’64, who focused on the consequences of his judicial decisions, has announced that he will step down after more than a quarter century on the Court.

  • Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer Announces His Retirement At The White House

    On the Court, Breyer had a ‘deeply thoughtful, learned, humane, and pragmatic approach’

    January 27, 2022

    In the wake of the news that Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer ’64 will retire at the end of the current term, Harvard Law School faculty members offer their thoughts on his tenure, legacy, and how the nation’s highest court could change after his departure.

  • Stephen Breyer

    Justice Stephen Breyer — a passionate pragmatist

    January 27, 2022

    Richard Lazarus ’79, a Supreme Court advocate and the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law, reflects on Justice Breyer's "striking pragmatism" — and passion — during his 28 years on the Court.

  • Two people walking in a hallway with other people walking along behind and next to them.

    Weighing President Biden’s first year

    January 18, 2022

    In this series, Harvard Law experts turn a critical eye to the Biden administration’s efforts on health care, the economy, criminal justice reform, and other areas important to Americans — and share their thoughts on its agenda for the future.

  • Student fixing in the wall a poster about environmental issues - There is no planet B

    Weighing President Biden’s first year: The environment

    January 13, 2022

    Harvard Law Professor Richard Lazarus says Biden has ‘quickly and effectively’ reversed many of former President Trump’s executive orders on the environment, but Congress ‘presents a major obstacle’ to the new administration.

  • The Supreme Court Case That Could Upend Efforts to Protect the Environment

    January 11, 2022

    Next month, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case involving an Obama-era power-plant rule that’s no longer in effect, and never really was. The Court has agreed to hear so many high-profile cases this term, on subjects ranging from abortion to gun rights to vaccine mandates, that this one—West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency—has received relatively little attention beyond legal circles. But its potential ramifications are profound. At a minimum, the Court’s ruling on the case is likely to make it difficult for the Biden Administration to curtail greenhouse-gas emissions. The ruling could also go much further and hobble the Administration’s efforts to protect the environment and public health. ... “The whole model of the New Deal state is that Congress passes laws that delegate to administrative agencies sweeping regulatory power to address the public health and welfare of the American people,” Richard Lazarus, a professor at Harvard Law School, explained. “And they don’t lay out the details, because they couldn’t possibly do that.” These days, of course, Congress is barely even able to pass laws. It hasn’t approved a significant piece of environmental legislation since 1990. The practical effect of the Court’s insisting that it lay out its intentions in detail before executive agencies issue regulations to address new threats—major or otherwise—would be to prevent those rules from being written. This, presumably, is exactly what the coal companies want, and what the public—in red states, and also in blue—should be terrified of.

  • The Ghost of Anne Gorsuch Burford

    January 11, 2022

    With the Supreme Court now set to hear in February a major case over the regulatory powers of the Environmental Protection Agency, some are already…

  • Vaccine mandate regulations are under the Supreme Court’s microscope

    January 7, 2022

    Another supreme battle at the U.S. Supreme Court Friday: In a special session, the justices are hearing expedited arguments in cases challenging two major Biden administration regulations aimed at increasing the number of vaccinated workers. The cases are in a preliminary posture, but how the court rules will very likely signal how these issues are ultimately resolved. ... "I think this is a case that's a test of how truly radical or conservative this court is or is not," says Harvard Law professor Richard Lazarus. "The question is whether the Supreme Court is going to try to totally upend the ability of our national government to safeguard the nation's health and safety amidst a global pandemic sweeping the country."

  • Supreme Court’s conservatives on the verge of ending right to abortion

    December 16, 2021

    The Supreme Court is ending the year starkly split on abortion, with the five conservatives showing all signs they will overturn Roe vs. Wade and let state lawmakers decide whether women may legally end a pregnancy. ... Roberts is no liberal and has repeatedly voted against abortion rights in the past. However, as chief justice, he has often tried to steer the court on a middle path to avoid sharp and divisive rulings. But he is no longer in control. "Now the five on his right can just abandon him," said Harvard Law School Professor Richard Lazarus, an environmental law expert who has been a friend of Roberts for more than 40 years. Instead, he said, control rests in the hands of Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr., conservative veterans who have long been determined to reverse the abortion rulings. "We may be seeing the early signs of a disintegration within the court itself," Lazarus added.

  • With Roe at Risk, Justices Explore a New Way to Question Precedents

    December 13, 2021

    Roe v. Wade has had a rough two weeks at the Supreme Court. On Dec. 1, at arguments over its fate in a case from Mississippi, the five most conservative justices showed no interest in doing anything short of overruling it. ... If the court overrules Roe, an increasingly real possibility, it will have to explain why it is departing from the principle of stare decisis, which is legal Latin for “to stand by things decided.” ... Shifting the analysis from the words of the opinion to the advocacy that gave rise to it is a recent development and yet another way to undermine precedents. Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard, explored this mode of argument in a recent article in The Supreme Court Review called “Advocacy History in the Supreme Court.” The article makes the sensible point that a full understanding of a Supreme Court decision requires consideration of how the parties had framed the case.

  • Future of abortion rights depends on a Supreme Court for which compromise seems elusive

    December 2, 2021

    The immediate future of abortion rights in the United States might depend on whether Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s attempt at compromise Wednesday was dead on arrival or just an opening bid. ... Wednesday’s argument “created the remarkable impression of a court at risk of disintegration,” said Richard Lazarus, a Harvard Law School professor who studies the court. “The now outsize conservative majority knew they could safely cast a deaf ear to the concerns of other justices, including even the chief justice. And the resulting frustration of the three more liberal justices was palpable.”

  • Adira Levine

    Harvard Law School student wins ABA administrative law writing competition

    November 23, 2021

    Adira Levine ’22, a third-year Harvard Law School student, was recently recognized by the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice for her essay on the intersection of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and environmental law.