Supreme Court Rules Trump Administration Can’t Stop Youth Climate Case
In a glimmer of hope for climate change litigation, the Supreme Court ruled against the Trump administration's attempt to block a ground-breaking lawsuit brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government for crafting policies that support climate-changing fossil fuels, The Huffington Post reported.
The high court ruled that the administration's motion to dismiss the case was "premature."
"This decision should give young people courage and hope that their third branch of government, all the way up to the Supreme Court, has given them the greenlight to go to trial in this critical case on their inalienable rights," Our Children's Trust Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel Julia Olsen said in a statement reported by The Huffington Post.
Our Children's Trust is the non-profit that helped the young people behind the case file the suit.
The ruling comes as historic cases around the country are determining what role the courts can play in responding to the climate crisis.
In the past two months, federal judges in New York and San Francisco have dismissed cases brought by cities suing oil companies for the cost of adapting to climate change.
In dismissing the cities' cases, the judges argued that the executive and legislative branches should determine climate policy, not the courts.
The children's lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, is different from the cities' suits in that it targets the government, not oil companies, for creating policies that encouraged climate change.
However, the government's lawyers have argued that it goes beyond the scope of the courts.
The administration argued that the trial judge who had permitted the case to proceed had acknowledged "a never-before-recognized fundamental right to a particular climate system that lacks any support in the Constitution, this court's precedents, or this nation's history and tradition," Bloomberg reported.
The young people's lawyers, in contrast, say the changes to the climate violate rights that are enshrined in the Constitution, since those changes "threaten the very foundation of life, including the personal security, liberties, and property," according to The Huffington Post.
The Supreme Court did caution in its ruling that the breadth of the lawsuit was "striking" and that the question of whether the matters it raised belonged in the courts "presents substantial grounds for difference of opinion," Bloomberg reported. The court also urged the trial judge to respond promptly to other government attempts to halt the case's progress.
As of now, though, the Supreme Court's ruling means the trial will still begin in U.S. District Court on October 29, 2018, something for which the young plaintiffs are grateful.
"The constitutional rights of my fellow plaintiffs and I are at stake in this case, and I am glad that the Supreme Court of the United States agrees that those rights should be evaluated at trial," 19-year-old plaintiff Victoria B. said in an Our Children's Trust press release. "This lawsuit becomes more urgent every day as climate change increasingly harms us. I have reaffirmed confidence now that all levels of the federal judiciary have ruled in our favor that there should be no more delay in getting to our trial."
The case was first filed in Oregon in 2015. The Obama administration moved to dismiss it in 2016, and the decision of an Oregon U.S. District Court judge to deny that motion is one the Trump administration continued to challenge, leading to Monday's Supreme Court ruling, Pacific Standard reported.