The following article, written by student reporters, is part of a series of reflections from the Climate Constitutionalism Conference, hosted by Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and Widener University Delaware Law School, and co-chaired by Distinguished Professor Katy Kuh (Haub Law) and Distinguished Professor James R. May (Delaware Law), on March 29, 2024. The event brought together legal scholars, activists, and students for a series of discussions on major environmental constitutional issues. Visit the GreenLaw homepage for links to other articles in the series


In an energized room at Pace University’s New York City campus, some of the most impassioned legal minds in constitutionalism and climate rights converged to discuss environmental and climate issues on a federal and subnational level. I, Sarah Kane, am a third-year student at Widener University Delaware Law School and I served as one of the “bullpen” student reporters for this Climate Constitutional Conference. Like other students, my task was to observe and take notes of the day’s discussions and participate in the roundtables held during the lunch hour. At the end of the day, student reporters took to the podium to share their findings and conversations from the various speakers and breakout groups.

My assignment included taking on the role as a self-proclaimed “exclamation point”. In summary, I was the final, culminating student reporter fortunate to celebrate both my fellow students’ new findings and to explain to the members of the conference that Widener University has its own semester-long Climate Constitutionalism Conference: the Climate Rights Seminar led by Professor James May. In this seminar, my fellow classmates and I discussed similar topics as those highlighted during the Climate Constitutionalism Conference on a weekly basis. These topics included an examination of climate rights case law, comparisons of Green Amendments amongst the states, and analyses of international treaties regarding the right to a stable or healthful environment. The Climate Rights Seminar and the Climate Constitutionalism Conference complemented each other, therefore, I felt confident, comfortable, and eager to participate in the conference’s related and lively conversations. The connection between the seminar and the conference deserves more than a few brief remarks, so I hope that other law schools and scholars can begin to see the benefits of this important course by the end of this post.

Climate Rights Seminar

During student reporter share out, I aptly described the Climate Rights Seminar as Delaware Law School’s very own semester long Climate Constitutionalism Conference. Climate rights encompass the ways in which constitutional rights, human rights, and other laws recognize or provide rights to individuals and communities to address or redress climate change. Our eighteen-person seminar, comprised of both second-year and third-year law students, focused on the ways in which the United States Constitution and subnational constitutions can protect and preserve a healthy, healthful environment for current and future generations. Unlike environmental law or other related courses, the Climate Rights Seminar focused on investigating and analyzing rights-based legal claims to fight climate change both nationally and globally. Through readings and presentations by guest speakers, the class was exposed to not only international leaders in the field, but also leaders in Delaware’s own backyard.


The Climate Rights Seminar course was organized in three distinct phases. Phase one took a more traditional approach to the course to include case readings, class discussions, and multimedia content. During each class, a select handful of students were designated to lead the class discussion, posing questions and remarks on topics that related to climate rights, ranging from international to environmental to socioeconomic and common law claims. After class discussion, a guest speaker would often supplement the conversation, detailing their firsthand experiences working within the given topic. Although students guided the conversation, having Professor May as a resource for two hours a week furthered our understanding and emboldened our interest in becoming a part of the action. It was amazing to see guest speakers who are pioneers of this field and teammates with Professor May in this fight. Amongst the guest speakers were Dr. Gabriela Oanta of Spain, Delton Carvahlo of Brazil, Dr. Stephen Turner of the United Kingdom, Professor Patrick Keyzer of Australia, Dr. Birgit Peters of Germany, and Professor Erin Daly of Delaware Law School. A comparison of international constitutionalism was essential not only to understand the laws comparatively, but also to become inspired by their novel claims in their respective countries.

This ushers in the second phase of the course: individual research and study. After gaining some footing on climate constitutionalism, the Climate Rights students were encouraged to explore related topics that interested them, whether based on United States jurisprudence or international rights-based claims. Professor May encouraged us to find novel legal claims and be creative, yet realistic, about our topics and provided some basic ideas to help get our research off the ground. The third and final phase of the course required the students both write a paper and create a presentation on the research topic of their choice. The seminar’s lessons were uniform in assignment but unique in outcome, and as a result, the class produced eighteen different approaches towards Climate Rights research and writing.

Student Work

One of the greatest highlights of the course is the fact that two of my classmates, John (Jack) Garvey and Austin Anderson, wrote an amicus brief to the Montana Supreme Court in response to the case Held v. Montana. Austin focused on the issue of Montana’s state constitution, which provides a constitutional right to clean and healthful environment and whether that thus incorporates a right to a stable environment. Jack focused on whether Montana’s constitutional right to dignity incorporates a right to a stable environment. The two artfully, creatively, and impactfully advocated that the state constitution does provide a stable environment through its current constitutional provisions. Aside from the brilliant substantive work, Jack and Austin’s swift learning of procedural norms in Montana was likewise impressive. I loved reading this brief and seeing all the law school professors who signed on in support.

The Climate Rights Seminar students also presented novel legal theories on an international level. Mariam S. Ghalim was a visiting student at Delaware Law School this semester from France and her paper, titled Inclusive Climate Governance: Empowering Indigenous Voices in Legislation and Navigating the Impact on Native Communities, focused on climate constitutionalism on a global scale. It emphasized the contrast between industrialized societies and the Indigenous communities in which they often disregard. Further, Mariam acknowledged the growing movements require a recognition and celebration of Indigenous practices in climate conservation and rights. Having used a human rights perspective at the forefront of her analysis, Mariam made clear that climate rights will only advance through an empathetic and inclusive meshing of communities. Another classmate, Emily Podolnick, responded to the Teitiota v. New Zealand case and sought to emphasize the pros and cons of international agreements for the safety of refugees. Other classmates, like Jisoo Kim and Dohee Kim, wrote their papers to show that climate change is a feminist and children’s rights issue, with both demographics bearing the most intense repercussions of the changing climate’s impact.

On the subnational front, classmates focused on a myriad of issues, including analyzing the opportunity to use the 9th Amendment as an avenue to fight for climate rights, drafting a complaint in support of children in Pennsylvania by way of its Green Amendment, and exploiting racist policies and its impact on Black people in Delaware. Another classmate argued that the 5th Amendment’s Takings Clause violates the right to a stable climate where government action contributes to climate change. And finally, for my own paper, I attempted to connect climate constitutionalism to sport by proposing that an express right to sport and leisure could be a complementary amendment to the already existing Green Amendments, almost like an exclamation point to the Green Amendment. This exclamation point would celebrate the existing achievements within the climate rights field while emphasizing the exciting possibilities of future climate work.


Having watched my classmates spend countless hours and find their way out of inevitable research dead-ends has been one of the most exciting parts of my law school experience. Knowing that I am entering the legal profession alongside mindful, curious, and resilient advocates is comforting and rewarding. When Professor May invited our class to attend the Climate Constitutionalism Conference at Pace, he encouraged the class to remain curious throughout the day and urged us to use our voice to ask questions and lead round table discussions.  Being able to connect with like-minded students, professionals, and keynote speaker, Karenna Gore, about the rapidly growing field of climate rights felt exactly like an exclamation point on my law school career. Although climate constitutionalism may be a long, legislative effort, advocating for institutions to add courses like Widener’s Climate Rights Seminar is an accessible place to start. As I enter the next phase of my legal career, I am excited to do so by ending this one with an exclamation point!