Gen Z environmentalists fail to convince government to even try their case about constitutional right to life-sustaining climate


A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday rejected a long-running lawsuit brought by young Oregon-based climate activists who argued that the U.S. government’s role in climate change violated their constitutional rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered the case dismissed in 2020, saying that the job of determining the nation’s climate policies should fall to politicians, not judges. But U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, instead allowed the activists to amend their lawsuit and last year ruled the case could go to trial.

Acting on a request from the Biden administration, a three-judge 9th Circuit panel issued an order Wednesday requiring Aiken to dismiss the case, and she did. Julia Olson, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit law firm representing the activists, said they were considering asking the 9th Circuit to rehear the matter with a larger slate of judges.

“I have been pleading for my government to hear our case since I was ten years old, and I am now nearly 19,” one of the activists, Avery McRae, said in a news release issued by the law firm. “A functioning democracy would not make a child beg for their rights to be protected in the courts, just to be ignored nearly a decade later. I am fed up with the continuous attempts to squash this case and silence our voices.”

The case — called Juliana v. United States after one of the plaintiffs, Kelsey Juliana — has been closely watched since it was filed in 2015. The 21 plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 8 and 18 at the time, said they have a constitutional right to a climate that sustains life. The U.S. government’s actions encouraging a fossil fuel economy, despite scientific warnings about global warming, is unconstitutional, they argued.

The lawsuit was challenged repeatedly by the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, whose lawyers argued the lawsuit sought to direct federal environmental and energy policies through the courts instead of through the political process. At one point in 2018, a trial was halted by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts just days before it was to begin.

Another climate lawsuit brought by young people was successful: Early this year the Montana Supreme Court upheld a landmark decision requiring regulators to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions before issuing permits for fossil fuel development.

That case was also brought by Our Children’s Trust, which has filed climate lawsuits in every state on behalf of young plaintiffs since 2010.

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