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Features & Columns

Supreme Court Refuses to Throw Out Younger Generation's Climate Lawsuit Against Government

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Supreme Court Refuses to Throw Out Younger Generation's Climate Lawsuit Against Government

2018-11-05 18:19:571 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Neil Gorsuch (Image source: Public domain)

 

While Donald Trump worked very hard stacking the deck in the U.S. Supreme Court, it didn't make enough of a difference with the latest decision. The president asked them to stop a case being brought by the younger generation regarding climate change, but the Supreme Court instead voted to let it continue.

 

There have been many reports and studies regarding climate control and the damage we as a population are doing to the planet. But conservatives historically do not agree. 

In 2015, 21 young people filed a lawsuit arguing that government leaders were failing to fight climate change, which they see as a violation of their constitutional right to a clean environment.

 

The lawsuit's goal is to get the government to hold back on their support for fossil fuel extraction and production and to also support policies that are aiming to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are attributable to global warming. 

"We've been confident throughout this case that we would get to trial, and I believe we will get to trial," Julia Olsen, the youths' attorney and executive director of Our Children's Trust, 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." 

They are seeking "nothing less than a complete transformation of the American energy system — including the abandonment of fossil fuels — ordered by a single district court at the behest of 'twenty-one children and youth," wrote Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco in a brief to the highest court.

 

"As the government has maintained since first moving to dismiss this suit in 2016, [the] assertion of sweeping new fundamental rights to certain climate conditions has no basis in the nation's history and tradition — and no place in federal court." 

The case was due to go before a federal judge in Oregon, but it was delayed while the Supreme Court added their thoughts after the government made an emergency request.

 

It's unknown how most of the judges voted individually, but Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch both voted to halt the suit. 

The Court issued a three-page order that said the government should look for relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

 

They believe the "suit is based on an assortment of unprecedented legal theories, such as a substantive due process right to certain climate conditions, and an equal protection right to live in the same climate as enjoyed by prior generations." 

While acknowledging that the 9th Circuit had previously rejected the case, the justices noted those decisions came at a time when there was a "likelihood that plaintiffs' claims would narrow as the case progressed." That never happened, so the justices believe the 9th Circuit could change their mind.

 

The Trump administration isn't the first to ask to have the lawsuit dismissed — the Obama administration did as well. They question the merits of the suit, believing discovery requests were "burdensome" and that the suit would usurp Congressional and federal agencies' authorities. 

Even if the trial were allowed to move forward, "it could well be years into the future" before the government could "seek relief from such an egregious abuse of the civil litigation process and violation of the separation of powers," wrote Francisco.

 

With the case already moving to the Supreme Court last summer seeking a stay, only for the court to decide it was "immature," the plaintiffs are continuing on, insisting the Trump administration won't suffer "irreparable harm" with the case. 

"This case clearly poses profoundly important constitutional questions, including questions about individual liberty and standing, the answers to which depend upon the full evaluation of evidence at trial," wrote the lawyers.

 

"These young plaintiffs, mere children and youth, are already suffering irreparable harm, which worsens as each day passes with more carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and oceans." 

The young plaintiffs are filing a request with the district court in Oregon and are hoping to see a hearing very soon and for it then to proceed to trial.

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