Climate Cop-out: 9th Circuit Shoots Down ‘Landmark’ Lawsuit by 21 Youths While Saying ‘Eve of Destruction’ is Near

(EnviroNews USA Headline News Desk) — Portland, Oregon — In a highly anticipated ruling watched by climate activists worldwide, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Portland, Oregon ruled for the U.S. Government against 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. the United States, in what is considered by many to be a landmark climate case. On Jan. 17, 2020, the Appeals Court instructed the lower court to dismiss the case all together.

Lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana and 20 other youth plaintiffs, with the support of Our Children’s Trust, filed the suit in 2015 while President Barack Obama was still in office. At that time, the plaintiffs in the suit were between the ages of seven and 19. The legal action was supposed to make for the “trial of the century” but now, it won’t even be heard in court.

Our Children’s Trust says the case brought before the courts isn’t about climate change. Rather, the public interest law firm declares, “The U.S. Government, through its affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources.”

All the students involved in the case claim they have been adversely affected by the consequences of climate change. For example, one student woke up to flooding in her home in Louisiana; another experiences an exacerbation of her asthma due to air pollution and the burning of combustibles.

According to the case document summary, the Court believed “the record left little basis for denying that climate change was occurring at an increasingly rapid pace,” and that “the federal government has long understood the risks of fossil fuel use and increasing carbon dioxide emissions,” and finally that “the government’s contribution to climate change was not simply a result of inaction.” With all that considered, two out of the three judges on the panel decided to punt the case from the federal court system, delivering a blow to the climate movement at large.

Circuit Court Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz, who wrote the majority opinion, found the case “compelling,” stating that climate change has brought the 1960’s song “Eve of Destruction” closer to becoming a reality. Hurwitz also wrote, “Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of Government.” Many advocates felt the Court was simply copping out on climate in broad daylight.

“The idea that [the plaintiffs’] only recourse is to go to the very branches of Government that are violating their rights when half of them can’t even vote is a preposterous notion,” said Julia Olson, an environmental lawyer for the plaintiffs, according to the New York Times.

All 21 Plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States at the NY Supreme Court — Photo: Stephen Shore — for: Vogue

Olson wasn’t the only one to question Hurwitz’s statement. Carroll Muffett, President of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), told Common Dreams the judicial branch is supposed to address the “legitimate grievances” of the plaintiffs:

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. Whether on issues of equality between genders or equality between races, courts have a long history of doing precisely what the panel says they cannot do here.

While Hurwitz and Circuit Judge Mary H. Murguia stood together in the ruling, United States District Judge for the Central District of California Josephine L. Staton, who was sitting in by designation, dissented in scathing fashion, offering strong rebukes for the other two judges on the panel:

It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the Government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the Government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation. My colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary.

In a press release, lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana said, “This isn’t over. Prepare for a petition for review en banc to the Ninth 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.” If granted, a review en banc would require the case to be heard by all 29 judges of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – not just the panel of three originally designated.

According to Our Children’s Trust, early in the case, the fossil fuel industry attempted to have it thrown out by interjecting itself and joining the U.S. Government as defendants. Both motions were dismissed, and in 2017, the fossil fuel industry representatives were released from the case, at their request, as defendants before it went to court in 2018. With the current decision going against the youths, Our Children’s Trust confirms it will “request that the full Ninth Circuit review this decision.”

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