The Trump administration’s battle against a global warming lawsuit brought by 21 youths will continue into 2019 after a federal court handed the government a big win over the holiday season.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department (DOJ) in a December 26 ruling largely missed by major media outlets. The court granted DOJ’s petition for interlocutory appeal that allows the government to fight the lawsuit without going to trial in a district court.
The three-judge Ninth Circuit panel is the very same that in March 2018 ruled against Trump administration petitions for a writ of mandamus, which allows a higher court to overrule a lower court before a case is decided.
Environmentalists handling the case on behalf of youth activists immediately filed a petition asking the District Court of Oregon to clarify how the trial will proceed.
“The bottom line is, this case is ready for trial, and should not be held up by further appeals,” Julia Olson, chief legal counsel and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, the activist group handling the climate lawsuit.
“The government has used the power of their office and the depth of taxpayer coffers to waste precious time and resources to avoid trial in this case, and now the court has capitulated with little scrutiny,” Olson said in a statement.
Our Children’s Trust filed suit against the federal government in 2015 on behalf of 21 youths, aged 11 to 22, arguing their right to a “stable climate system” was being violated. The suit asks the court to order the government to issue laws and regulations to fight global warming.
The government should move “to ensure that atmospheric CO2 is no more concentrated than 350 [parts per million] by 2100 … to stabilize the climate system,” reads the group’s legal complaint.
The youth lawsuit is just one of a handful of global warming lawsuits being brought before state and federal courts in recent years as environmentalists, Democratic politicians and trial lawyers turn to the courts to advance the climate agenda.
Youth activists, however, base their legal reasoning on the idea that the “public trust doctrine” also requires the government to ensure a “stable climate system.” Many legal experts are doubtful that activists will succeed in getting the courts to force other branches of government to push climate policies.
The U.S. District Court in Oregon ruled in 2016 the youth plaintiffs had standing to sue, which was reaffirmed by the Ninth Circuit in March.
In November 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the youths’ climate lawsuit could proceed after initially granting the Trump administration’s request to stay the climate lawsuit.
However, the Supreme Court’s unsigned opinion also stated the reasons the Ninth Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s petition for mandamus relief were “to a large extent, no longer pertinent.”
Ninth Circuit Appeals Judge Michelle Friedland claims in her four-page dissent the lower court only approved the Trump administration’s appeal is because it “felt compelled” to by the Supreme Court’s November opinion.
“We could then resolve any novel legal questions if and when they are presented to us after final judgment,” Friedlander wrote in her dissent, which argues the climate lawsuit should go to trial.
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