Tracy Hester


Consent decrees – the unheralded workhorses of regulatory law – play a critical role in environmental law. The bulk of major environmental disputes at the federal level are resolved through consent decrees lodged under judicial supervision, and key federal environmental statutes and policies directly require settling parties to use consent decrees to resolve their claims. These proposed decrees, however, typically receive only a restrained judicial review that does not yield a formal judicial opinion on the full merits of the agreement. Parties, in fact, will frequently insist that the decree will not involve an admission of liability or any conclusions of law. As a result, consent decrees operate as the dark matter of environmental law – an unseen supporting medium that surrounds and supports the statutory and regulatory directives that function within it, but which leaves few marks of its own. These decrees play a similar role in several other legal fields, including antitrust, consumer protection, class actions, labor, and bankruptcy.

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