When it comes to challenging White House policy, the kids are more than alright: Today’s teenagers are proving themselves extremely capable government adversaries — with respect to gun control, yes, but also with respect to climate change.
As Vice reports, the Trump administration has repeatedly tried and failed to halt a lawsuit 21 youths filed in 2015. The suit, Juliana v. United States, charges that the federal government has jeopardized complainants’ constitutional rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) by prioritizing the fossil fuel industry’s interests at the environment’s expense. The government has attempted to get their case thrown out, arguing that these youthful grievances were too broad to be considered valid, but on Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco formally disagreed. A three-judge panel unanimously rejected the Department of Justice’s dismissal request, calling it “premature,” Reuters reports.
“Litigation burdens are part of our legal system, and the defendants still have the usual remedies before the district court for non-meritorious litigation,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote in the ruling, according to Reuters. “Claims and remedies often are vastly narrowed as litigation proceeds; we have no reason to assume this case will be any different.”
Now, the stage is set for a trial, which excites Julia Olson, chief counsel for Our Children’s Trust and attorney for the young activists. “We need a constitutionally compliant energy system that doesn’t destroy these people's lives — and the court can order that,” Olson told Vice. “[The case is] going to be about the impacts of climate change on young people and the discrimination of children and youth with respect to their rights. It’s going to be about how long the federal government has know that if it kept a fossil fuel energy system in place that it would destroy our environment.”
The plaintiffs, who are now between 10 and 21 years old, allege that the federal government has for years sanctioned the burning of fossil fuels with the full knowledge that the practices contribute to climate change, but has consistently declined to act, which the youths argue translates to their shorter lifespans in a more hostile environment. They originally filed their suit against the President Barack Obama’s administration, and now it’s President Donald Trump’s problem, which seems yet more apt: Trump’s agenda tears away at science and environmental policy at every conceivable turn, cutting clean energy programs and promoting a return to carbon dioxide-belching coal.
In November 2016, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene, Oregon, refused to dismiss Juliana v. U.S., explaining that failing to consider the complainants’ argument could give the government the green light to “poison the air” with impunity, if in fact that’s what officials had been doing. The DoJ countered that allowing the case to move forward could culminate in “constitutional crisis,” wherein citizens sue the president and specific members of his administration. Now, the suit goes back to Aiken, likely for trial.