Husker Fans Get to Keep Their Balloons After Suit Dismissed

 Husker Stadium

Thousands of latex red balloons will likely stream again into the air after the University of Nebraska’s football team scores its first home-field points against Fresno State on Sept. 3. 

That should come as no surprise to the more than 80,000 fans projected to attend the season opener at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb. The university has been handing out balloons to celebrate Husker scores for more than a half century.

An Omaha man, Randall Krause, aimed to change that though. Krause sued the state to stop the release of the balloons, arguing that it violated the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates solid waste. 

The U.S. District Court for Nebraska stopped him in his tracks on July 15, ruling he lacks the right to sue under the 11th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. That amendment says U.S. citizens can’t sue states without a waiver. Chief District Judge Laurie Smith Camp said the university is an instrument of the state, and therefore can’t be sued. 

Krause also unsuccessfully challenged Omaha’s use of sodium chloride and sodium ferrocyanide in road salts earlier this year. 

Krause said the balloons threaten the safety of children and animal conservation. The balloon releases qualify as discarding solid waste, Krause argued. The helium-filled balloons, which come with non-biodegradable strings, can drift hundreds of miles throughout the eastern part of the U.S., Krause said in the challenge.

“Either in pieces or intact, all of the balloons eventually come back to earth. On the earth they become a hazard to wildlife,” Krause said. “Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food, which can harm or even kill them. In addition, many animals can become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or hurt their feet and hands.” 

Endangered species like the whooping crane, the green sea turtle and the humpback whale are at risk, he said. So are children under the age of 8, who may put the balloons in their mouths and choke, Krause said.