On October 15, a U.S. District Judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by a group of young Americans against the federal government over the issue of climate change will proceed on October 29, despite repeated attempts by the government to have the case dismissed.
Initially filed in 2015 against President Barack Obama by twenty-one youths between 8 and 19 years of age, the lawsuit argues that federal officials and oil industry executives had violated their constitutional rights by failing to act on the issue of carbon emissions, despite knowing for decades the impact that this type of pollution has on the environment. After President Donald J. Trump took office, the lawsuit was updated to list him as the defendant, along with the heads of numerous government agencies that changed hands when the new administration took power.
The decision, handed down by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Oregon, narrowed the scope of the lawsuit, dismissing the youth’s claim that their Ninth Amendment rights had been violated, but allowed their main argument — that climate change and its impacts would deprive them of their Fifth Amendment rights to life, liberty, and property to be protected — to proceed. Judge Aiken also removed Donald Trump from the lawsuit as a defendant, concluding that the inclusion of a sitting president would violate the proper separation of powers between court and government agencies. Aiken’s ruling, however, did not preclude Trump from being re-included in the case as a defendant in the future.
Since the case’s initial filing in 2015, federal defendants have tried to have the case dismissed, and filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on October 12 to halt the case while it sought a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Justice Department is also reviewing the case, and has called the lawsuit an unconstitutional attempt to control the climate and energy policy of the United States through a single court. Lawyers for the government also argued that the youth’s claim that extreme weather events, such as flooding, caused them emotional trauma, damaging their health, safety, cultural practices, food security and economic stability, did not belong in court, as these are widespread environmental phenomena that affect everyone on the planet.
Aiken dismissed these arguments, pointing out that the plaintiffs had convincingly linked their injuries to the effects of fossil fuel-induced climate change, and that there was sufficient evidence that government actions enabled fossil fuel industries through coal leasing, oil development and industry subsidies, contributing to the children’s injuries.
"Having contributed extensive personal testimony and research to help develop our case’s factual record over the past several years, I am confident that our arguments on the remaining disputed issues will ultimately prevail in court,” explains one of the plaintiffs, Alex Loznak, now 21. “We still need a full and fair trial to prove our case. October 29, here we come!"
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