USA court dismisses climate change lawsuit brought by young people

James Marshall
January 20, 2020

A federal appeals court on Friday rejected a lawsuit from children and youth who claimed they had the constitutional right to be protected from climate change, in a major setback to efforts to encourage the U.S. government to address the problem.

The lawsuit, filed in 2015 with the legal assistance of Our Children's Trust in Eugene, Oregon, had survived longer than expected, defeating efforts by the Obama and Trump administrations to dismiss the case prior to the June 4 hearing before the Ninth Circuit.

According to The Huffington Post, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 against the 'Climate Kids.' While acknowledging the gravity of man-made climate change, the judges decided the case lacks sufficient legal standing to proceed to trial.

A Department of Justice spokesman said the government was pleased with the outcome.

"Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power". When the case was initially sent to trial by a U.S. District Court judge in 2016, it became the first case in which a U.S. court recognized the constitutional right to a safe climate.

In its decision, the court agrees with the premise of the case.

The dissenting judge, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton, said the Constitution did not "condone the Nation's willful destruction" through climate change, likening government inaction to shutting down all defenses to an asteroid barreling toward Earth.

"In these procedures, the government accepts as a fact that the United States has reached a tipping point and calls for a concerted response - while continuing towards disaster".

"It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government made a decision to shut down our only defenses", Staton opined. "Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation".

Our Children's Trust attorneys hope the entire Ninth Circuit will take up their appeal. The avenue for appeal beyond that is the Supreme Court.

The suit had survived numerous attempts by the government to dismiss the case since it was originally filed.

Throughout the case, the activists have argued that the continued ill effects of climate change will rob them of basic civil rights. "But for centuries, and emphatically, that has been the definition of the role of courts: when plaintiffs are suffering harms to fundamental rights at the hands of other branches of government, addressing those wrongs and protecting plaintiffs' rights is the essential and inescapable domain of the federal courts".

The 2-1 vote for dismissal was a major blow for the climate activists, who have filed numerous similar cases in state and federal courts and now have nine cases pending in state courts from Alaska to New Mexico.

Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz agreed with some of that assertion, writing in a 32-page opinion that "the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change".

Staton drew a comparison in her dissent.

"Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it", Judge Ann Aiken wrote.

"These injuries are not simply "conjectural" or 'hypothetical;' at least some of the plaintiffs have presented evidence that climate change is affecting them now in concrete ways and will continue to do so unless checked", the majority wrote.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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