Flint’s Fight for Environmental Rights

Noah D. Hall | August 28, 2022

This Essay reviews the recent development of environmental rights within U.S. constitutional law, advanced through a series of federal court decisions in the wake of the Flint water crisis. The residents of Flint were poisoned and lied to by their government for nearly two years. They experienced how American environmental governance has failed at the state and federal levels and how our environmental laws leave individuals and communities unprotected. And then Flint fought back, in the courts, for five years. Flint residents have been overwhelmingly successful, achieving some justice for themselves and advancing substantive rights and remedies within our constitutional framework for all Americans. Their legal victories established precedents for courts to use their equitable powers to order systemic remedies to environmental injustices, protect the right to bodily integrity—as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment’s Substantive Due Process Clause—against involuntary pollution and toxic exposure, and hold the U.S. government accountable for inaction in administering our environmental laws. Flint’s fight for environmental rights has turned the Flint water crisis into a breakthrough event in environmental and constitutional law.