By Eric Posner
The answer is no. Citizens cannot sue the government unless the government causes a “concrete and particularized” harm to them — as opposed to a government action that affects everyone the same.
That’s why citizens can sue the government if the police unlawfully arrest them but not if the government unlawfully arrests other people. And citizens can’t sue the government for enacting laws that they think are bad policy or failing to enact laws that they think are good policy. Ordinary people can also not sue the government for raising (or lowering) taxes, enacting (or repealing) the death penalty or allowing (or forbidding) farmers to use dangerous pesticides.
The underlying legal rules may be obscure but they are uncontroversial. They block courts from getting involved in disputes that they can’t resolve and from making policy that our Constitution and political traditions leave to elected officials. The inexplicable opinion by the magistrate judge in Oregon boils down to the claim that climate change is special — a “novel theory somewhere between a civil rights action and the NEPA/Clean Air Act/Clean Water Act suit” — and so all the normal legal rules need to be suspended…