Juliana v. United States: Do the kids have a chance?

By: Olivia Molodanof


In August 2015, twenty-one children ages 10 to 21 from all over the country filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against the United States government in the District of Oregon.[1] The young Plaintiffs claim constitutional violations of due process, equal protection, and public trust principles alleging that the federal government has failed to adequately address the devastating reality of global warming and has affirmatively acted to worsen climate change through continued authorization of fossil fuel development.[2] The children seek a sweeping judicial order directing the federal government to swiftly phase-down carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions, develop a national plan to restore the Earth’s energy balance and right the constitutional harms, and implement the national plan so as to stabilize the climate system.[3]

The Trump administration filed a mandamus petition in June asking the Ninth Circuit to review the District Court’s denial of motions to dismiss in November 2016. So now, in less than a month, on December 11, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments on whether this case will go to trial on February 8, 2018. For the young Plaintiffs to succeed, they need to convince the Court of Appeals that a trial should go forward, despite the government’s claim that pre-trial discovery ­– of decades of unknown and/or hidden information on federal policy on fossil fuels and climate change ­– will cause irreparable harm.[4]

Anyone reading about this case two years ago would have never expected a climate change suit like this to last as long as it has, let alone have a trial date set. Constitutional climate change claims? Brought by a group of kids? Despite all odds – including the lack of precedent in this field of law, the unique public trust doctrine claims, and difficult standing challenges – the plaintiffs’ progress in the past year completely shifted perspectives on the potential outcome of this case.

Due to Judge Aiken’s order in November last year, the children secured a few critical legal rulings: there is a fundamental constitutional right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life; the federal government has fiduciary public trust responsibilities to preserve natural resources upon which life depends; and the children’s requested remedy is appropriate if the court finds a violation of the children’s’ constitutional rights.[5] Not only is there now a historical opinion on the record, but in September this year, eight amicus briefs were filed by religious, women’s liberation and environmental groups, legal scholars, and legal nonprofits in support of the Plaintiffs, displaying resounding legal support for denying the mandamus petition and allowing the case to proceed to trial.[6]

If the children make it past the Ninth Circuit and head to trial in February, the issue to be determined is whether the federal government’s systematic actions over the past fifty years enabling climate change have violated the children’s constitutional rights. The strongest chance they have at proving this is through acclaimed NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen, representing Plaintiff Future Generations as “the guardian of the youth,” whose expertise focuses on human impact on global climate.[7] The facts at trial will be proven through science, and Our Children’s Trust, the non-profit representing the children, is confident that the Trump administration’s “junk science” and hoax theory of climate change won’t prevail in a court of law.

The trial court’s ruling in November, combined with the compelling and creative arguments by young Plaintiffs and Dr. Hansen’s extensive climate change science background and knowledge may mean a big win for the children, the earth, and future generations of our planet.

Tune into the livestream of the oral arguments (20 minutes per side) on December 11 at 10:00am (PST): http://www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/live_oral_arguments.php



[1] Compl., Juliana v. United States, No. 6:15-cv-01517-TC, 2015 WL 4747094 (D. Or. Aug. 12, 2015).

[2] First Amend. Compl., Juliana v. United States, No. 6:15-cv-01517-TC, ¶ 1 (D. Or. Sept. 10, 2015).

[3] Id. at 94.

[4] Neela Banejee, Appeals Court Takes up Youth Climate Change Lawsuit Against Trump, Inside Climate News (Nov. 17, 2017).

[5] See Juliana v. United States, 217 F. Supp. 3d, 1224 (2016); Id.

[6] Our Children’s Trust and Earth Guardians, Groups Supporting Plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S. Urge Dismissal of Trump’s Mandamus Petition (Sept. 5, 2017).

[7] First Amend. Compl. at ¶ 93, Juliana (D. Or. Sept. 10, 2015).

Juliana v. United States: Do the kids have a chance? By: Olivia Molodanof

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