Blog: Drew YoungeDyke

Election season 2012 will leave its footprint on the region's parks, preserves, and natural resources. Drew Younge Dyke, policy specialist at the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, helps us to look at the environmental impacts of legislation and decode the greenalese.

Making sense Out of "Greenalese"

There is a popular saying in Michigan that state supreme court elections are usually decided based on the Irish-ness of the candidates' last names. Unfortunately, that's about all that many Michigan citizens know about their highest court. The Michigan Supreme Court, however, can have a significant impact on the land, air and water that defines our state.
With that in mind, the organization that I work for – the Michigan League of Conservation Voters (LCV) – partnered with the Environmental Law & Policy Center at the University of Michigan Law School to help Michiganders make sense out of the legalese and understand how their elected justices affect their environment.

Law students have researched and summarized cases dating back to 1982, and Michigan LCV applied an analysis to the summaries to help readers quickly understand the impact that the Court can have on Michigan's natural resources.

The finished tool is called Green Gavels and is hosted on the Michigan LCV website. It informs conservation-minded citizens on issues about which they care deeply. By going back 30 years, it surveys every conservation decision made by every sitting Michigan Supreme Court justice. Green Gavels shows the impact the Court can have on conservation. Justices have individual profile pages which list how they ruled in each case, and a scoreboard which shows all of their ratings together.

So that citizens need not be legal scholars to understand Green Gavels, Michigan LCV provided ratings and analyses on cases and judicial decisions, as well as a glossary of any legal terms used.

Aldo Leopold once wrote, "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  

While it was tempting to apply that standard to the cases, we recognized that many of them will be decided on legal issues which sometimes have little to do with their ultimate environmental impact. Therefore, we gathered an advisory panel of experienced Michigan attorneys - including a retired Michigan Supreme Court justice - to review our ratings and analyses to ensure that they are fair and objective.

Michigan courts often decide cases with conservation impacts. Few go before the Michigan Supreme Court each year, but those that do have significant impacts. Their decisions guide how all lower courts decide conservation cases, too.

Unfortunately, many Michigan residents know very little about our Supreme Court.  Green Gavels bridges that information gap by providing citizens across the state with an objective tool to gauge the impact of sitting Supreme Court justices, helping Michiganders make sense out of the "green-alese."