One legal tool used by advocates for the environment, prisoners and other activist groups could disappear depending on the outcome of a case the Georgia Supreme Court heard Monday.
The seven justices on the state’s highest court are considering whether anyone can sue the government to make it stop breaking its own laws.
“This case is about the checks and balances on the executive branch of government in Georgia,” said Jenny Culler, an attorney for the Center for a Sustainable Coast.
She told the justices that the suit her organization filed — along with Jekyll Island residents David and Melinda Egan — should not be used by court as an opportunity to end suits against the government through the legal principle of sovereign immunity.
The original principle evolved in Europe with the idea that no one could sue their own king since he can’t break a law when he makes the laws. In this country, sovereign immunity prohibits lawsuits against the government.
The lawsuit alleges the Department of Natural Resources’ Coastal Resources Division repeatedly violated Georgia law by issuing letters granting landowners permission for construction on the state’s 100 miles of coast line. Culler said the state’s Shoreline Protection Act required permits be issued after several steps, not simple letters.