According to plaintiffs in the Juliana versus the United States lawsuit, the rights of young people were violated by the government – how? Because, as per the plaintiffs (and many, many others), there is a right to a climate that is safe. inaction is unacceptable, as is contributing to climate change and environmental concerns. But what was the outcome of this climate change-focused case? 

Let’s start with a quick background. 

The plaintiffs demanded that the government do its part to protect today’s children (and future generations) from damage resulting from inaction against climate change. The plaintiffs believe federal government acts have been perceptively causing harm to the climate system.  

The judges on the panel involved in this case, held in Portland, included Andrew D. Hurwitz of the Ninth Circuit Court of AppealsJosephine L. Staton of District Court for the Central District of California, and Mary H. Murguia of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

Climate Change Inaction: Where Does Responsibility Fall? 

Unfortunately, the case has been dismissed. In a 2 to 1 ruling by a panel of three judges in the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the lawsuit was dismissed just a few days ago as of this writing. The case, centered around climate change, involved 21 young persons who made the decision to sue the federal government because they believe they are being denied the right to a safe climate, due to inaction against climate change.  

Those fighting to raise awareness for climate change feel this is a huge blow, and that it demonstrates irresponsibility on behalf of the courts and the government.  

But what do the judges think? Are they concerned about climate change? The short answer is yes, they agree that climate change is in fact a threatening, urgent concern. 

However, they believe the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue (note that the plaintiffs were, at the time the lawsuit was filed, as young as 8 years old). The judges claimed the climate change policies need to come from the legislative branch. So, the climate change-centered case needs to be made to the electorate at large or the political branches.  

Circuit Court Judge Andrew Hurwitz acknowledged that climate change risks are increasing and that the ones who are going to suffer the most devastating impacts are young people.  

A senior attorney at the nonprofit backing the youth involved in this lawsuit (Our Children’s Trust), Andrea Rodgers, disagreed with the outcome and her organization has promised to appeal the decision 

More Climate Change Lawsuits Are Coming 

There are other climate change lawsuits making their way through United States courts – Juliana vs. US is just one of them. People are standing up to the fact that politicians are not delivering sufficient climate change policies. Courtrooms are becoming a place to talk about needing to control emissions. There have been suits filed against companies regarding climate change – for instance, Exxon. But the Juliana case is different in the sense that rather than going after fossil fuel companies, it challenged the federal government for inaction against climate change. 

This suit was able to get somewhat far, all things considered. It went through numerous motions to dismiss as well as intervention by the US Supreme Court. To fight climate change, the plaintiffs wanted a government plan to be put together in order to discontinue the use of fossil fuels. According to Hurwitz, unfortunately, this relief was not something within their constitutional power.  

Josephine Staton, , made an interesting comparison. She compared crushing this climate change suit to basically shutting down defenses if an asteroid were to come barreling toward our planet.  

Juliana v. the United States became a high profile climate change lawsuit – as a matter of fact, it has been the most influential lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust. Other climate change civil rights lawsuits have been filed by this same group in state courts. 

Climate Change Inaction BattleWhat’s Next? 

More complaints and suits fighting inaction against climate change are being filed. A human rights claim was filed by indigenous tribes in Louisiana at the United Nations. Their argument is that through the US government’s contributions to climate change, their rights have been violated as their lands are being eroded and destroyed.  

might have been dismissed, but this won’t be the last time climate change is discussed in court.  

Sources: 

https://www.vox.com/2020/1/17/21070810/climate-change-lawsuit-juliana-vs-us-our-childrens-trust-9th-circuit 

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/appeals-court-dismisses-kids-climate-case-180974026/ 

 

 

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