The U.S. Supreme Court Just Gave A Major Climate Change Lawsuit The Go-Ahead

Photo: Elaine Thompson/AP Photo.
The Trump administration’s request to dismiss an unprecedented court case has been denied. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down the request to put an end to a 2015 lawsuit made in Oregon arguing that the government’s lack of action to combat climate change violates their constitutional right to a clean environment.
The lawsuit aims to pressure the government into reducing America's support of fossil fuel extraction and production in addition to supporting policies that will reduce contributing factors to global warming such as greenhouse gas emissions. “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,” attorney Julia Olson told The Washington Post on Friday.
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Both the Obama and Trump administrations have requested that lower courts drop the suit, claiming that it is based in unprecedented legal theories such as “an equal protection right to live in the same climate as enjoyed by prior generations.” In a brief written to the U.S. Supreme Court by Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco, the person appointed to represent the American federal government before the Supreme Court, the suit's demands are deemed unreasonable. They “seek 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 21 children and youth.”
This case has been the back and forth since 2015. These 21 young people and their legal team demand the right to a clean environment and for the government to take responsibility in keeping it as clean as possible. The government responds by saying that “new fundamental rights to certain climate conditions has no basis in the nation’s history and tradition — and no place in federal court.” The Juliana v. United States case is the first to take on the federal government, though there are others who are pursuing similar charges on a state level.
Now, the case will go to trial. In their three-page order denying the government’s request, the Supreme Court recommended that they seek relief from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which presides over appeals in a number of states, including Oregon. According to The Washington Post, the Ninth Circuit has a history of turning down the government when there is a likelihood that the plaintiffs’ claims would narrow as the case progressed. Justices left it open for the government to return with another request to the Supreme Court in the future.
What makes this different than other environmental cases is that the suit alleges that the American government has threatened the “fundamental constitutional rights to life and liberty” through its actions and, just as importantly, its inactions.
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