SCOTUS Blocks Climate Suit 10/22 07:22
SEATTLE (AP) -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday temporarily blocked a
high-profile climate change lawsuit brought by young activists who accuse the
federal government of violating their constitutional rights with policies that
have caused a dangerous climate.
Chief Justice John Roberts signed an order freezing the trial that was set
to start in 10 days in federal court in Oregon until lawyers for the young
people provide a response and the high court issues another order.
It marked a victory for the government, which under the Obama and Trump
administrations has tried unsuccessfully for years to get the case dismissed.
An expert says the Trump administration tried again before the Oct. 29 trial as
the court shifted to the right with the confirmation this month of Brett
The Supreme Court refused to toss the lawsuit in July, calling it
Justice Department lawyers asked again Thursday, arguing that the claim aims
to redirect federal environmental policies through the courts rather than
through the political process.
Julia Olson, a lawyer representing the young plaintiffs and chief legal
counsel for Our Children's Trust, said they are confident the trial will move
forward once the justices receive their response, which is due by Wednesday.
The Supreme Court has recognized in other cases that review of
constitutional questions "is better done on a full record where the evidence is
presented and weighed," she said in an email. "This case is about already
recognized fundamental rights and children's rights of equal protection under
The young people say government officials have known for more than 50 years
that carbon pollution from fossil fuels was causing climate change and that
policies on oil and gas deprive them of life, liberty and property. They also
say the government has failed to protect natural resources as a "public trust"
for future generations.
The lawsuit wants a court to order the government to stop permitting and
authorizing fossil fuels, quickly phase out carbon dioxide emissions to a
certain level by 2100 and develop a national climate recovery plan.
The Trump administration got a temporary reprieve on the case after also
asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected the request in
"The latest attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the trial does not
appear to be based on any new evidence or arguments. The only new element is an
additional Supreme Court justice," said Melissa Scanlan, a professor at Vermont
Law School, who is not involved in the case.
Kavanaugh replaced the more moderate Anthony Kennedy.
Scanlan said the Trump administration is trying to avoid "what they're
expecting to be a 50-day trial focused on climate disruption." The trial in
Eugene, Oregon, was expected to wrap up in January.
The federal government has argued in court filings that the young people
don't have standing to bring the case and the issues should be left to the
political branches of government, not the court.
Jeffrey Wood, acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's
environment and natural resources division, said officials "firmly believe
there is no legal basis for this case to be heard in federal court."
The lawsuit "is an unconstitutional attempt to use a single court to control
the entire nation's energy and climate policy," he said, according to prepared
remarks for a speech he gave Friday at a conference in San Diego. "It is a
matter of separation of powers and preserving the opportunity in our system of
government for those policies to be decided by the elected branches, not the
The lawsuit is part of a nationwide effort led by the Oregon-based nonprofit
Our Children's Trust to force states and the federal government to take action
on climate change.
James Hansen, a former top NASA scientist who told the world 30 years ago
that global warming had arrived, is also part of the federal case.
District Court Judge Ann Aiken earlier this week dismissed President Donald
Trump as a defendant in the case and rejected arguments that the young people
can't bring the case. She said they made specific allegations of "personal
injuries caused by human induced climate change," including extreme weather
events in 2016 and 2017 that led to flooding in Louisiana.
Scanlan, the law professor, said the plaintiffs will need to show that the
government created a danger, that they knew they created that danger and they
"with deliberative indifference" failed to prevent harm.