A federal judge in Ohio has dismissed a motion to name Lake Erie, a body of water, as a party in an ongoing lawsuit, calling the request “unusual” and “meritless.”
As The Ohio Star previously reported, Toledo voters overwhelming approved of the controversial Lake Erie Bill of Rights in February, a ballot proposition that extended legal rights of the Ohio Constitution to an inanimate object.
In response to its passage, Wood County farmer Mark Drewes filed suit, saying the Lake Erie Bill of Rights “violates federal constitutional rights, including equal protection, freedom of speech, and is unenforceable for its vagueness.”
In that lawsuit, a nonprofit called Toledoans for Safe Water sought to have Lake Erie named as a party in the case, but U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary ruled against the motion last week.
“This unusual request is meritless. The only source of domestic law cited in the motion supporting the ecosystem’s capacity to intervene is the amendment itself,” he wrote in his ruling, referring to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.
“The amendment, however, does not purport to allow intervention by the ecosystem in federal district courts,” he continued. “Some may believe the law should confer legal standing upon natural objects and features. But a district court—bound by Congress and higher courts—is not the appropriate body to take that leap.”
As Zouhary mentioned, Toledoans for Safe Water pointed only to international cases to support its argument, citing instances in which lawmakers in Ecuador, Bolivia, and New Zealand extended legal rights to ecosystems.
“Toledoans for Safe Water, Inc. does not qualify for intervention by right, and its argument for discretionary intervention is not persuasive. Lake Erie Ecosystem lacks capacity to intervene,” Zouhary concluded his ruling.
The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation defended Drewes and his farm against potential lawsuit after the Lake Erie Bill of Rights passed.
“Mark’s farm is an example of the right way of doing things,” the group said. “He’s employing a variety of conservation practices, water monitoring systems, water control structures and uses variable rate enabled equipment and yet he’s vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. We are proud that our member has stood up against this overreach, and his efforts will benefit all Farm Bureau members, farmers and protect jobs in Ohio.”
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