The Potential Meanings of a Constitutional Public Trust

57 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2015 Last revised: 23 Jul 2015

See all articles by John C. Dernbach

John C. Dernbach

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School

Date Written: June 2, 2015


The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth (Robinson Township) has lawyers looking at the state’s constitutional Environmental Rights Amendment (Amendment) — including its public trust provision — as if it magically appeared in the state constitution on the date of the decision. The Amendment had been so thoroughly buried by judicial decisions that most lawyers had never given the text much thought. This Article describes the origin of the Amendment, the two primary cases decided shortly after it was adopted that effectively buried the Amendment, and the Robinson Township decision. It then surveys the wide range of issues that have arisen in the courts and other adjudicatory bodies in the immediate aftermath of Robinson Township and provides suggestions for how some of them should be resolved. Taken together, these cases provide a glimpse of what constitutionally protected environmental rights, including a constitutional public trust, could mean if the Pennsylvania courts continue to treat the Amendment as constitutional law.

Keywords: Robinson Township, constitutional law, Article I, Section 27; Pennsylvania constitution, constitutional environmental law, public trust

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K32, Q00, Q01, Q10, Q2, Q3, Q4

Suggested Citation

Dernbach, John C., The Potential Meanings of a Constitutional Public Trust (June 2, 2015). Environmental Law, Vol. 45, No. 463, 2015, Widener Law School Legal Studies Research Paper No. 15-12, Available at SSRN:

John C. Dernbach (Contact Author)

Widener University - Commonwealth Law School ( email )

3800 Vartan Way
Harrisburg, PA 17110-9380
United States

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