While rejecting the government’s request to stop the discovery process of obtaining evidence and depositions, the High Court nonetheless lodged criticisms of the case, which is known in lower courts as Juliana v. United States.
“The breadth of respondents’ claims is striking, however, and the justiciability of those claims presents substantial grounds for difference of opinion,” the justices wrote in the Monday notice, asking the District Court for the District of Oregon, where the case is pending, to consider those facts.
The Justice Department turned to the Supreme Court earlier this month to halt discovery after both the Oregon court and the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit turned down their pleas to stop the case’s progression.
Administration attorneys sent their Supreme Court petition last month to retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. He referred it to the full nine-justice court for a vote.
Monday’s order did not say how the justices voted, but a five-justice majority is necessary for the kind of stay the administration wanted.
The case was filed in 2015 by 21 child and young adult plaintiffs, represented by climate activist and scientist James Hansen. They argue that the federal government, led at the time by President Obama, needs to take stronger action against global warming.
Federal officials have tried at numerous steps to stop the case or the discovery process.
“This suit is an attempt to redirect federal environmental and energy policies through the courts rather than through the political process, by asserting a new and unsupported fundamental due process right to certain climate conditions,” the Justice Department wrote last month to the Supreme Court.
“Absent relief from the Ninth Circuit or this Court, the government will be forced to participate in a highly compacted period of discovery and trial preparation followed by a 50-day trial, all of which will itself violate bedrock limitations on agency decisionmaking and the judicial process.”
The denial by the 9th Circuit earlier this month was the second time the administration has sought an extraordinary order from that court to block discovery.
“We denied the government’s first mandamus petition, concluding that it had not met the high bar for relief at that stage of the litigation,” that court's judges wrote. “No new circumstances justify this second petition, and we again decline to grant mandamus relief.”
Updated at 4:30 p.m.