Ninth Circuit Dismisses Youth Climate Suit, While Agreeing Government Policy Is Destroying The Planet

Above Photo: Jim DM/Flickr

The Juliana 21 Continue to Fight for Justice in the Biggest Climate Lawsuit in America

Eugene, Oregon – Today, a divided panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals “reluctantly” concluded that the youth plaintiffs’ case in Juliana v. United States must be made to the Congress, the President, or to the electorate at large. The decision finds federal courts cannot provide the youth with a remedy for their climate change injuries. In her dissent, District Judge Josephine L. Staton wrote that the youth plaintiffs brought suit to enforce the most basic structural principal embedded in our system of liberty: the Constitution does not condone the Nation’s willful destruction. Judge Staton would hold that the youth plaintiffs have standing to challenge the government’s conduct, have articulated claims under the Constitution, and have presented sufficient evidence to press those claims at trial. Counsel for the youth plaintiffs vowed to ask the full Ninth Circuit to review the determination that federal courts can do nothing to address an admitted constitutional violation.

Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs, commented: “The Juliana case is far from over. The Youth Plaintiffs will be asking the full court of the Ninth Circuit to review this decision and its catastrophic implications for our constitutional democracy. The Court recognized that climate change is exponentially increasing and that the federal government has long known that its actions substantially contribute to the climate crisis. Yet two of the judges on the Panel refused to set the standard for redressing the constitutional violation, to protect our Nation’s children. The standard is a question of science that should be determined at trial. The majority opinion ignores the fact that we have yet to go to trial on the issue of redressability.”

There were numerous points in which the majority opinion of Ninth Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz found in favor of the youth plaintiffs, including: the evidence showed climate change was occurring at an increasingly rapid pace; copious expert evidence established that the unprecedented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels stemmed from fossil fuel combustion and will wreak havoc on the Earth’s climate if unchecked; the record conclusively established that the federal government has long understood the risks of fossil fuel use and increasing carbon dioxide emissions; and the record established that the government’s contribution to climate change was not simply a result of inaction.

The opinion also recognized that the youth plaintiffs had suffered concrete and particularized injuries from climate change. The panel held the district court properly found the youth plaintiffs met the Article III causation requirement because there was at least a genuine factual dispute as to whether a host of federal policies were a “substantial factor” in causing the plaintiffs’ injuries.

Yet, two of the three judges held the youth plaintiffs’ claimed injuries were not redressable by an Article III court. Specifically, the majority held it was beyond the power of federal courts to order, design, supervise, or implement the youth plaintiffs’ requested remedial plan where any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted to the executive and legislative branches. In short, the majority ruled the remedies the youth plaintiffs have requested must be implemented by Congress or the President, not the courts.

Philip Gregory, with Gregory Law Group of Redwood City, California and co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs, stated: “Despite finding the government was actively contributing to climate change, and despite the fact the court found these youth plaintiffs submitted evidence of concrete and particularized injuries, and despite the fact that the youth plaintiffs presented sufficient evidence to show federal policies were a substantial factor in causing plaintiffs’ constitutional injuries, a majority of the panel concluded there was nothing federal courts could do to address these constitutional violations. We strongly disagree with this conclusion and will take this determination to the full Ninth Circuit.”

Kelsey Juliana, the 23-year-old named plaintiff in Juliana and resident of Eugene, Oregon, said: “THIS ISN’T OVER. Prepare for a petition for review en banc to the 9th circuit as we refuse to do anything but move forward and ultimately win. Courts do have an obligation to address issues of constitutional, existential crisis, like climate change. STAY HOPEFUL STAY WITH US STAY TUNED STAY IN POWER.”

Levi Draheim, 12-year-old plaintiff from Satellite Beach, Florida, commented: “We will continue this case because only the courts can help us. We brought this lawsuit to secure our liberties and protect our lives and our homes. Much like the civil rights cases, we firmly believe the courts can vindicate our constitutional rights and we will not stop until we get a decision that says so.”

Juliana v. United States is not about the government’s failure to act on climate. Instead, these young plaintiffs between the ages of 12 and 23, assert that the U.S. government, through its af irmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case is one of many related legal actions brought by youth in several states and countries, all supported by Our Children’s Trust, and all seeking science-based action by governments to stabilize the climate system.