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New SCOTUS Precedent Used in Bid to Amend Kids’ Climate Case

June 25, 2021, 8:56 PM

Recent Supreme Court precedent played a central role in district court arguments Friday to resuscitate the so-called kids’ climate case with narrower claims.

Attorneys for 21 youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S. met the federal government for arguments at the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in efforts to resurrect their climate case with amended claims.

The youth plaintiffs claim their constitutional rights to a stable climate are being violated through government support of fossil fuel extraction, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed their case last year.

Attorney Julia Olson from Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit at the helm of this and other domestic youth cases, told Judge Ann Aiken that the decision scrapping the case didn’t bar plaintiffs from bringing fresh claims for declaratory relief.

The panel, Olson insisted, didn’t address a slew of issues brought in the amended complaint, including new factual allegations and the possibility of declaratory judgment recognizing a constitutional right to a safe climate system.

“The Ninth Circuit does not lay any of those issues to rest,” Olson said. “The Ninth Circuit never said this court cannot declare a constitutional violation where there is an active case of controversy with ongoing injury and causation.”

But the Ninth Circuit mandate was “clear” in its dismissal, countered Sean Duffy, arguing for the Biden administration.

The young people’s recast case doesn’t address the appellate panel’s issues with standing—nor does it negate the idea that the issue of energy and climate policy belongs solely with elected officials and not courts, Duffy continued.

“There’s no standing, there’s no jurisdiction, there’s nothing left for this court to do but to dismiss the case,” Duffy said.

Supreme Court Moves

Supreme Court precedent provided fertile ground for Friday’s debate on whether the young people at the heart of Juliana had injury at stake.

A decision in the Affordable Care Act case, California v. Texas, decided last week, found that plaintiffs must show injury that courts can address in order to prove a constitutional rights violation, which applies to Juliana, Duffy said.

But Aiken pushed back on the use of that case, questioning whether young people haven’t adequately raised issues of life threatening harm.

The Supreme Court consumer fight, TransUnion LLC v. Ramirez, mentioned earlier in arguments by Olson, seemed a better fit for Aiken. In that case, Justice Brett Kavanaugh said plaintiffs need a personal stake to establish standing, something Olson said was “very clear here” for the kids.

“If Justice Kavanaugh is writing that a case of controversy requires a personal stake of ‘What’s it to you?,’ it seems to me these 21 children have certainly put that in the arena of controversy,” Aiken said.

Continued Fight

The young people filed their landmark case against the Obama administration in 2015. Despite the Ninth Circuit’s dismissal, judges did not bar the kids from refiling. The fight on Friday hinges on a bid to more narrowly reconfigure the claims and start the fight over in district court.

Aiken asked the government and the youth plaintiffs to meet with Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin this week to try and settle on a solution with mediation instead of further courtroom brawls.

Aiken said she won’t get to a decision quickly, noting a stack of other environmental cases on her desk.

But she ended the day’s proceedings noting she will be picking up a recent leaked draft report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that the “worst is yet to come” for global warming consequences.

“I would think at this point the government might take a look at what courts can do to be helpful,” she said, regarding the report. “I was hopeful your argument might have been different today.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at jhijazi@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com; John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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