Legal Newsline

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Federal government denied right to appeal climate change decision; Youths accused it of not addressing global warming

By John Revak | Oct 17, 2017

EUGENE, Ore. (Legal Newsline) – As the issue of climate change continues to entrench itself into the public conscious, the judicial system is being forced to reckon with the matter itself.

Only recently, potentially monumental cases have entered U.S. federal courts that could shape both the government and industry’s obligations to combat the effects of a warming planet. One such case is currently being litigated in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, Eugene Division.

In Juliana, et al. v. United States of America, a cohort of youths between eight and 19 years of age brought suit against the U.S. government in 2015 for its alleged failure to adequately address global warming in its environmental policy.

The plaintiffs claim that the failure to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions and the resulting effects on the climate has resulted in a violation of their right to due process. In other words, their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The government moved to dismiss the claim for lack of jurisdiction, lack of standing to sue and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In a significant decision, the U.S. Court for the District of Oregon denied the motion to dismiss in November 2016. The defendants, according to Judge Ann Aiken, were mistakenly applying a statutory and common-law environmental framework to the case, when the claim was actually centered on constitutional violations.

In March 2017, the government attempted to file an interlocutory appeal of the motion to dismiss but was again denied by the court.  

In her November opinion, Aiken recognized the importance of the judicial branch’s involvement in the issue of climate change, and took the opportunity to lobby for a more active approach.

“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” she said. 

“Even when a case implicates hotly contested political issues, the judiciary most not shrink from its role as a co-equal branch of government.”

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U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon Eugene Division