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Landmark Youth Climate Suit Moves Ahead as Supreme Court Rejects Trump Admin. Request to Halt It

"The youth of our nation won an important decision"

Supporters of the youthful plaintiffs in the case rally outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 29, 2018.

Supporters of the youthful plaintiffs in the case rally outside the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 29, 2018. (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

The nation's top court on Friday turned down the Trump administration's latest attempt to put the brakes on a landmark lawsuit brought by a group of young people who charge that the federal government has violated their constitutional rights by actively causing climate instability.

"The youth of our nation won an important decision," said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children's Trust and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs. She said the finding by the U.S. Supreme Court "shows even the most powerful government in the world must follow the rules and process of litigation in our democracy."

The plaintiffs, aged 11-22, assert (pdf) that the government "continued their policies and practices of allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels," despite knowing, for 50 years, that doing so "would destabilize the climate system on which present and future generations of our nation depend for their well-being and survival."

The trial did not begin on October 29 at the United States District Court in Oregon as they'd hoped because the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay while it weighed the federal government's request for dismissal. In denying an extension of the temporary stay, the new order says the "government's petition for a writ of mandamus does not have a 'fair prospect' of success in this Court because adequate relief may be available in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit." The three-page order also states that Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch would have extended the stay.

While that appeals court previously rejected the government's requests for a stay, its basis for doing so rested "in large part, on the early stage of the litigation, the likelihood that plaintiffs' claims would narrow as the case progressed, and the possibility of attaining relief through ordinary dispositive motions. Those reasons are, to a large extent, no longer pertinent," the order adds. 

Still, for the plaintiffs, Friday marked "an important date," said Philip Gregory, co-counsel for the youth in Juliana v. United States, which first starting winding its way through the courts three years ago. "We just filed a request with [U.S. District Court ] Judge Aiken, hoping the Court sets an immediate pre-trial conference and a prompt trial date. We are extremely pleased that the courthouse doors are re-opened. Plaintiffs are ready to start trial right away."

Twenty-two-year-old plaintiff Kelsey Juliana says she wants "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," she added, "stay with us, in hope and in the pursuit of justice."

According to Thanu Yakupitiyage, communications manager for climate group 350.org, "All of us have a responsibility to double down in supporting the young people holding the U.S. government responsible for perpetuating climate change and threatening our collective future." 

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