Juliana plaintiffs

The 21 youth plaintiffs in the constitutional climate case Juliana v. United States pose for a photo in New York City.

(Photo: Our Children's Trust)

250+ Groups Call On Biden DOJ to Drop Fight Against Children's Climate Case

"Young Americans have the right to be heard by our nation's courts, the branch of our government that has a duty to protect our constitutional right to a livable planet."

Representing a coalition of more than 255 climate justice and other progressive groups as well as more than 50,000 supporters, campaigners on Wednesday digitally delivered a petition demanding the U.S. Department of Justice end its efforts to block a lawsuit filed eight years ago by 21 youth plaintiffs over the harm done to children across the country by the government's continued support for fossil fuels.

The People vs. Fossil Fuels coalition—including Food & Water Watch, Sunrise Movement, and 350.org—delivered the petition to the DOJ and Attorney General Merrick Garland, with coalition steering committee member John Beard saying the young plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States "have the right to be heard by their nation's courts."

"Justice deferred, regardless of age, is justice DENIED," said Beard. "End the DOJ's campaign to deny these youth access to justice."

The case was originally filed in 2015, with the plaintiffs arguing that the U.S. government has not done enough to protect communities from the climate crisis and that its continued support for planet-heating fossil fuel extraction is putting the lives of millions of children in danger.

Since the lawsuit was originally filed, the petition delivered on Wednesday points out, "young people like these 21 young Americans have suffered from increasingly severe climate harms" as their day in court has been "delayed again and again by tactics employed by the Department of Justice to impede or dismiss their case."

"Justice deferred, regardless of age, is justice DENIED. End the DOJ's campaign to deny these youth access to justice."

Since the plaintiffs—now ranging in age from 15 to 26—filed their lawsuit, the U.S. has faced climate-related disasters including a deadly heatwave in the Pacific Northwest, a number of severe hurricanes, and a drought across the western part of the country.

"Young people fear when the next devastating flood, wildfire, drought, heatwave, or other climate disaster will be," said Zanagee Artis, founder and executive director of Zero Hour, who co-delivered the petition with Beard. "It's long past time for the Department of Justice to end its opposition to the Juliana plaintiffs and youth climate justice. Young Americans have the right to be heard by our nation's courts, the branch of our government that has a duty to protect our constitutional right to a livable planet."

The campaigners delivered the petition three weeks after Judge Ann Aiken of the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon ruled that the plaintiffs can amend their complaint and the case can proceed to trial. In 2018 U.S. the Supreme Court halted to case from going to trial days before it was to commence.

"It is a foundational doctrine that when government conduct catastrophically harms American citizens, the judiciary is constitutionally required to perform its independent role and determine whether the challenged conduct, not exclusively committed to any branch by the Constitution, is unconstitutional," said Aiken in her ruling earlier this month.

Now, "evidence that indisputably proves the federal government's knowing perpetuation of the climate crisis will come to light, in open court, and Judge Aiken will rule whether the U.S. energy system violates the youth's constitutional rights," People vs. Fossil Fuels said Wednesday.

The coalition called on the DOJ to refrain from using an "extreme legal tool" known as a petition for writ of mandamus to delay the case. The Trump administration used the maneuver six times to block legal actions, but the tool is "only intended to be used as an 'extraordinary remedy,'" according to Our Children's Trust, the public interest law firm that represents the plaintiffs in Juliana.

"Tell Attorney General Garland today to end the extreme legacy of the Trump DOJ by not filing an unprecedented SEVENTH petition for writ of mandamus in this case in an attempt to once again delay this trial," said Children's Trust this month, calling the legal tool an "abuse of process."

The petition was delivered on the same day that another case regarding children and fossil fuel energy wrapped up in Montana. Sixteen plaintiffs ranging in age from 5 to 22—also represented by Our Children's Trust—are arguing in that case that the state's continued support for fossil fuel extraction has violated the children's constitutional rights.

People vs. Fossil Fuels urged supporters to write to the DOJ to call on Garland to end the Biden administration's opposition to the case.

"The U.S. District Court has just put the young plaintiffs' case back on a path to trial and the Department of Justice will soon respond," said the coalition. "They can choose to defend the case on its merits at trial—just as they would any other constitutional case—or continue the Trump administration strategy of seeking to block the youth's access to their own courts."

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.