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Kids’ Climate Plaintiffs Eye Supreme Court After Defeat (2)

Feb. 10, 2021, 4:37 PMUpdated: Feb. 10, 2021, 8:12 PM

Federal judges won’t revisit an ambitious climate lawsuit from 21 young plaintiffs against the U.S. government—a development that could catapult climate law issues to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Wednesday declined to rehear Juliana v. United States, also known as the kids’ climate case. The decision is another loss for the plaintiffs on their high-stakes claims that the government is violating their constitutional rights to a safe climate system.

Lawyers for the children and young adults are already vowing to take the issue to the Supreme Court, despite warnings from legal scholars that such a move could undermine environmental litigation more broadly.

“The Ninth Circuit failed to correct the legal errors in the panel decision. It’s now up to the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the ability of our federal courts to interpret the U.S. Constitution and resolve controversies through a declaration of law,” Our Children’s Trust executive director and chief legal counsel Julia Olson said in a statement Wednesday.

The litigants had asked for a second chance after a three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit tossed their case in early 2020, concluding the court couldn’t provide the primary relief the young plaintiffs sought: a broad plan to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels.

The Justice Department, which defended against the kids’ climate case during both the Obama and Trump administrations, declined to comment on the rehearing denial Wednesday.

The closely watched lawsuit has been moving through federal courts since 2015. If the plaintiffs file a Supreme Court petition, the justices could decide to place the case on their docket next term, which begins in October.

Environmental lawyers and scholars last year cautioned that putting the case before the conservative-leaning Supreme Court could invite the justices to narrow environmental standing and preclude other types of climate cases.

The case is Juliana v. United States, 9th Cir., No. 18-36082, rehearing denied 2/10/21.

(Updated with Justice Department response in sixth paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Renee Schoof at; Anna Yukhananov at