Juliana et al v United States et al, otherwise known as the Children’s Trust Case, is a major environmental law case being litigated in the United States District Court in Eugene. It was brought by 21 young plaintiffs, supported by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit legal organization seeking environmental justice through the establishment of science based Climate Recovery Plans that will return atmospheric CO2 to scientifically acceptable levels.
The case was filed in August 2015. It is one of a few similar cases based on new common law theories of constitutional rights and trust obligations alleging that the U S Government through its actions has caused climate change and has thus violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights and failed to protect public trust resources.
During 2015 and 2016 the case proceeded in a fairly normal manner, highlighted by the intervention and subsequent departure of the petroleum industry representatives. Eventually on November 10, 2016, Judge Ann Aiken, judge in the Oregon Federal District Court, issued a forceful opinion upholding the theory of the case and allowing it to continue to trial. This was only days after Donald Trump was elected President which resulted in a change of attitude on the part of the Defendants.
In May 2017 the Government requested permission to file a writ of mandamus, a special appeal to the Ninth Circuit. On June 8th Judge Aiken denied the request. Nonetheless, the next day the Government filed its motion for the writ and a motion to dismiss the case in the Appeals Court. On July 25th the Ninth Circuit ordered a stay in the case at the trial level, in order to consider the request for mandamus and other issues.
The matter was argued on December 11, 2017, before a panel of Chief Judge Sidney Thomas and Judges Alex Kozinski and Marsha Berzan. One week after the argument Judge Kozinski abruptly resigned and Judge Michelle Friedland replaced him on the panel.
On March 7th, just last week, the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion denying the Defendants’ claims. All the judges agreed that the Government had not established a case for extraordinary relief and that the matter should return to the District Court for trial. While this was only a procedural victory for the plaintiffs, it was welcomed by them and their supporters.
Julia Olson, Executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel in the case said:
“ The Ninth Circuit just gave us the green light for trial. We will ask … for a trial date in 2018 where we will put the federal government’s dangerous energy system and climate policies on trial….
For those with an interest in environmental law Judge Aiken’s opinion of November 10, 2016, merits study. One noted scholar, Patrick Parentean, of the Vermont Law School, calls it a “blockbuster.” The opinion can be reached through the Wickipedia article on Juliana v US. Climate Liability News at (https://www.climate liability news.org/) has a helpful timeline for the case under the heading The Kids Climate Case.