Can 21 young people sue the government over climate change?

The Supreme Court will decide this week whether to let the trial begin on Oct. 29.

 

This article was originally published by the Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Less than three months ago, the Supreme Court allowed a landmark climate change lawsuit against the federal government to proceed, despite misgivings about the “striking” breadth of the case filed by nearly two-dozen teenage plaintiffs. This week, the high court must decide again whether to delay the case just days before it is set to go to trial in federal court in Oregon.

On Friday, Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order on behalf of the Supreme Court to stay the proceedings pending the young plaintiffs’ response to the government’s request to narrow the case. The plaintiffs filed their 103-page response Monday morning, which means the Court has a tight window to decide whether to let the trial begin, as previously scheduled, on Oct. 29. 

Twenty-one people, ages 22 and younger, are suing the federal government for violating their constitutional rights by “the government's affirmative actions that cause climate change.”
Courtesy Our Children's Trust

The teenagers initially sued the Obama administration in 2015, arguing that they have the right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.” As Mother Jones previously reported:

The plaintiffs in Juliana v. the United States are arguing that the US government has known for decades that carbon dioxide emissions are endangering the planet. By allowing the production of fossil fuels to continue, the lawsuit alleges, the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to life, liberty, and property is being violated, in addition to their public trust rights. 

The government asked the Supreme Court over the summer to block the case, citing its “groundless and improper” request to have the Executive Branch devise a “national remedial plan” to phase out carbon dioxide emissions. In their response on Monday, the plaintiffs said an intervention by the Court at this stage would “undermine the confidence of the American people in our Nation’s justice system.” 

Another similar climate change case, which was brought against the state of Washington, was dismissed in August before a trial could begin. In explaining his decision, a Seattle trial judge said the lawsuit from 13 teenage plaintiffs should not go forward because the issues brought about in the case were of a political, not legal, nature.

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. 

High Country News Classifieds
  • SEASONAL SAN JUAN RANGERS
    Seeking experienced crew members to patrol Colorado's most iconic mountain wilderness.
  • ENDANGERED SPECIES STAFF SCIENTIST
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a staff scientist to advocate for the conservation of endangered species. General position overview: The position will involve working...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PROGRAM
    The Center for Biological Diversity - a national nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection of imperiled plants, animals and wild places - seeks a dynamic...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Staff Attorney to join our team of attorneys, scientists, campaigners who are working to protect America's public lands...
  • SOUTHWEST CONSERVATION ADVOCATE
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a Southwest Conservation Advocate to join our team of attorneys, scientists and campaigners who are working to protect America's...
  • OCEANS PROGRAM CAMPAIGNER
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks an experienced campaigner for its oceans program. The aim of the position is to campaign for the protection of...
  • CLIMATE LAW INSTITUTE ATTORNEY
    The Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute is looking to add an attorney to its team and will consider applicants at both staff attorney...
  • FULL-TIME CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR
    The Center for Biological Diversity seeks a full-time Campaign Director in our Climate Law Institute to join our campaign for progressive, urgent government action to...
  • WESTERN WATER PROJECT MANAGER
    National Wildlife Federation is hiring NM-based position focused on riparian corridors, watershed health. Learn more and apply online: https://www.nwf.org/about-us/careers
  • ASSOCIATE PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Associate Program Director Location: New Mexico; flexible in state Position reports to: Senior Program Director Position Closes: March 13, 2020 GENERAL DESCRIPTION: The...
  • DEAN, W. A. FRANKE COLLEGE OF FORESTRY AND CONSERVATION, UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA
    Dean, W. A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, apply http://bit.ly/2548umjobs. AA/EEO/ADA/Veterans Preference Employer
  • GRAPHIC DESIGNER
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a creative and driven graphic design professional to design high quality print and digital collateral. The Graphic Designer will bring...
  • STEWARDSHIP SPECIALIST
    San Isabel Land Protection Trust seeks experienced person to manage its 133 conservation easements in south-central Colorado.
  • CAMPAIGN REPRESENTATIVE
    Sierra Club's Beyond Dirty Fuels Campaign is hiring an experienced campaigner to lead our work challenging the oil and fracked gas industry on the Gulf...
  • AG LANDS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Oregon Agricultural Trust (OAT) seeks passionate relationship builder experienced in coordinating agricultural conservation easement transactions.
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • FINANCE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Coms/Engagmnt Mngr; Dev/Engagmnt Dir; Americorps vol
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND ENGAGEMENT MANAGER
    Mountain Studies Inst (MSI) is hiring 4+ positions: Finance Director; Dev/Engagement Dir; Coms/Engagement Mngr; & Americorps volunteer
  • SEASONAL TRAIL CREW LEADERS
    Lead the nation's premier volunteer-based trail crew programs on the spectacular Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail. This is a great career-building opportunity for rising professionals....
  • ORGANIZING AND TRAINING COORDINATOR
    Is this your dream job? Are you looking to join a nationally recognized organizing network, live in a spectacular part of the West, and work...