A federal lawsuit filed by a group of young people accusing the federal government of violating their constitutional right to life with fossil fuel policies that promote climate change has won a key ruling.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled Wednesday that the case can proceed toward trial. The ruling rejected the Trump administration’s request to throw the lawsuit as a “drastic and extraordinary remedy” for which Justice Department attorneys failed to make a case.
The 2015 complaint filed in Oregon by 21 young people, ages 10 to 21, argues that government policies have exacerbated climate change, in violation of their rights to life, liberty and property ― and those of future generations. The policies have also failed to protect “essential public trust resources,” the suit argues.
The suit claims that for more than 50 years, presidents and eight federal agencies have promoted policies to support the energy industry’s use of fossil fuels, which are largely responsible for carbon emissions and climate change. The lawsuit calls for the government to develop a “constitutionally compliant national energy system and science-based climate recovery action.”
The appeals court “just gave us the green light for trial,” lawyer Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit litigating the case with Earth Guardians, said Wednesday in a statement. “We will ask the District Court for a trial date in 2018 where we will put the federal government’s dangerous energy system and climate policies on trial for infringing on the constitutional rights of young people.”
Seattle plaintiff Kirnan Ooman, 21, said in a statement that the “question of the last few years has not been do we have a case, but rather how far will the federal government go to prevent justice?”
There was no immediate comment from the Justice Department.
The Justice Department argued that the federal judge in Eugene, Oregon, who refused to dismiss the case in 2016 had overstepped her authority. Federal attorneys claimed that the issues are not the business of the courts, but the sole purview of Congress and the president. The appeals court unanimously concluded that those arguments are “better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation.”
Trump’s Justice Department is likely to appeal the ruling and ask the Supreme Court to throw the case out, reports Bloomberg.
If that fails, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Oregon must then decide which government officials can be deposed.