Young people suing US government over climate change are staying the course
By Linda Pentz Gunter
“As California burns, Trump administration battles climate lawsuit.”
That’s the headline that recently ran across the website of Our Children’s Trust. It refers to a lawsuit brought in 2015 by 21 children, now aged between 10 and 21, first against the Obama administration and now the Trump administration. The children’s claim? That “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”
Trump may want to rake while California burns, but his administration is also using every legal avenue possible to stamp out the fire of these determined young people fighting for their future.
In effect, the government is using its battery of lawyers to play the game of delay. But, just like climate change, which won’t go away if we simply delay dealing with it, these children remain determined not to go away either. The stakes are simply too high.
Those stakes are best articulated by the young people themselves. Here is Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, then 15 and now 18, and one of the plaintiffs in the suit on behalf of Earth Guardians, of which he is now Youth Director, and who has been speaking out for the climate and our environment since he was six years old.
The constitutional climate lawsuit — Juliana v. U.S. — was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon on September 10, 2015. And, just as the sailors of the USS Ronald Reagan — dosed by Fukushima fallout in 2011 — have also discovered, the U.S. government response is not to admit wrong, but to string the whole thing out through endless legal wrangling with the goal of wearing down the plaintiffs. In the USS Reagan case, sailors are back in court yet one more time just to secure the right to have their compensation case heard in the U.S. and not in Japan. In seven years they have not even arrived at arguing the merits of the case itself.
The climate kids are similarly facing a seemingly endless round of legal maneuvers designed to get the case dismissed.
The children in the lawsuit are calling out the government’s inaction on climate change, and worse than inaction. The government knew about the devastating onslaught of climate change, the case argues, and did nothing, or certainly not nearly enough. That, they say, is a violation of the public trust doctrine.
The story of their lawsuit and its odyssey is told in this short film produced by Our Children’s Trust.
Of course, under the Trump administration the whole situation has become infinitely worse than doing nothing or not enough. Now the U.S. government is actively undermining steps to rein in climate change, by promoting coal, oil, gas and nuclear power.
The children’s lawsuit has made progress over the last three years, despite every U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) effort to get rid of it. However, the case has stalled again. It was supposed to be heard by the U.S. District Court on October 29, 2018. Instead, it is once more in legal limbo, after the DOJ threw in another in a series of writs of mandamus that is, according to labroots, “an uncommon legal tactic that overrules a lower court before a trial has even occurred.”
Time and again, the children and their lawyers have defeated DOJ efforts to stay the case. Every writ of mandamus has been rejected by the courts. But the finish line remains elusive.
In this video, Avery McRae, just 10 years old, explains why she is involved.
“What these young plaintiffs are being put through just to have their day in court is disgraceful,” Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, told Mother Jones in a recent article about the case. “This trial would finally hold the Trump administration accountable for its climate denial and destructive agenda. The court shouldn’t let the Trump administration use absurd legal claims to weasel out of it.”
Among other “prayers for relief” the lawsuit orders the Defendants “to prepare and implement an enforceable national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2 so as to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital resources on which Plaintiffs now and in the future will depend.”
Their case deserves to be heard. We are almost out of time.
To follow the climate trial, see Our Children’s Trust.