Terra Verde

The Case for Constitutional Green Amendments

plaintiffs in Held v. Montana youth climate case
Youth plaintiffs arrive at the courthouse during the Held v. Montana trial. Photo by Robin Loznak / Our Children’s Trust.

This summer, the climate movement celebrated a landmark win. Sixteen young people, who sued the state of Montana back in 2020 for promoting fossil fuels, prevailed in their lawsuit against the state, enjoying what has been described as a sweeping win. Their case was the first constitutional climate case and first youth climate case to go to trial in the United States. It rested on several constitutional guarantees, including the plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection, liberty, health and safety, and notably, to a clean and healthy environment. That last one is a relatively unique constitutional protection: Montana is one of only three states in the country with a so-called green amendment, putting the right to a clean and healthful environment on par with other fundamental rights in the state. But a growing movement seeks to embed similar rights in state constitutions across the country.

Maya van Rossum, founder of Green Amendments for the Generations, joins Earth Island Journal Managing Editor Zoe Loftus-Farren to discuss the green amendment movement, the Held case, and why self-executing constitutional environmental rights could be an especially powerful tool for climate activists.