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This Supreme Court Decision Is the Best News of the Weekend

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Supporters of the youth climate lawsuit rally outside the Supreme Court. Win McNamee / Getty Images

It was a good weekend for justice in America, which isn't something we get to say very often these days. That's because Friday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court kicked it off with a hopeful decision: The Trump administration can't stop the historic youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States from going to trial.


Our Children's Trust, the organization supporting the young people behind the case, summed up the mood with a tweet featuring a quote from 22-year-old plaintiff Kelsey Juliana: "Stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice."

The lawsuit was first filed back in 2015 on behalf of 21 young people who argue that their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property have been violated by the government's scandalous inaction on climate change. In a year of historic wildfires and hurricanes, it's pretty easy to see where they're coming from. It's also easy to see their argument had first the Obama administration and now the Trump administration spooked. Both administrations tried multiple times to stop the case from going to trial.

"We've been confident throughout this case that we would get to trial, and I believe we will get to trial," Our Children's Trust executive director and attorney in the case Julia Olson told The Washington Post. "We have overcome everything the government has thrown at us. It is not luck. It is the strength of the case and the strength of the evidence and the strength of the legal arguments we are making."

This most recent attempt by the Trump administration to block the case was a nail-biter, though, because the Supreme Court actually delayed the start of the trial, which had been set for Oct. 29, while they considered it.

This was alarming because the Supreme Court had rejected a similar bid by the administration to block the case in July. But between July and October one important thing had changed. Justice Anthony Roberts had retired and Justice Brett Kavanaugh had taken his place.

EcoWatch explained at the time why this was troubling:

Kennedy was a swing voter on environmental issues who sometimes ruled in favor of increased regulations despite his conservative credentials. Kavanaugh's record is much more consistently anti-regulation when it comes to environmental cases. He also lied during the confirmation hearings, presenting his past rulings as more environmentally friendly than others familiar with the cases said they were. After Kennedy announced his retirement, Harvard law professor Richard Lazarus worried a more conservative court might make it harder for private citizens to sue the government over climate change.

But for now it is unknown how Kavanaugh's presence on the court impacted its decision to let the case proceed. Justice Clarence Thomas and Trump's other appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said they would have sided with the administration and blocked the case, but the others kept mum on how they voted.

The Supreme Court isn't necessarily gung-ho about the legal arguments made in Juliana v. United States. It acknowledged that the case was "based on an assortment of unprecedented legal theories," but ultimately ruled that government should seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit first.

However, in good news for the young plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also denied the administration's attempt to stop the case on Friday. The plaintiffs immediately filed a request in the District Courts to begin the process of getting the trial back on schedule, and hopefully they will get their day in court soon.

In a full quote from the Our Children's Trust press release, Kelsey Juliana expressed both the frustration and worry caused by the constant delays, as well as the admirable persistence she and the other plaintiffs demonstrate as the fight for a better future for all of us:

Today we move forward. I want to trust that we are truly on track for trial without having further delays, but these defendants are treating this case, our democracy, and the security of mine and future generations like it's a game. I'm tired of playing this game. These petitions for stay and dismissal are exhausting. To everyone who has invested in this case, to those who've followed along our journey for the past three years and counting: stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice.

Fight on, Kelsey! We'll stay with you!

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That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


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