Energy & Environment

Appeals court rebuffs youth climate activists in novel case against government

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The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday rejected youth activists’ appeal to rehear their suit challenging the federal government for exacerbating climate change, leaving the Supreme Court as the only remaining option for plaintiffs in the novel case.

The court said the motion failed to receive enough votes to be heard in front of the full panel of judges. The plaintiffs said they plan to appeal to the high court.

“The 9th Circuit has deprived people in that Circuit the ability to seek a resolution of a real controversy with their government, and hear a controversy about harm to the health and safety of children. It goes against Supreme Court precedent and the precedent of every other Circuit. That travesty cannot stand,” Julia Olson, an attorney for the 21 activists, said in a statement.

The case, Juliana v. United States, has been making its way through the court system since 2015, and its plaintiffs now range in age from 13 to 24.

A three-judge panel on the circuit in August 2019 said the plaintiffs did not have the power to push the government to address climate change.

“Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power,” 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Andrew Hurwitz, an Obama appointee, wrote for the majority at the time. “Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.”

Judge Josephine Staton, another Obama appointee, dissented by saying the climate change issues raised in the suit were within the court’s authority to redress and warned that “waiting is not an option.”

“If plaintiffs’ fears, backed by the government’s own studies, prove true, history will not judge us kindly,” Staton wrote. “When the seas envelop our coastal cities, fires and droughts haunt our interiors, and storms ravage everything between, those remaining will ask: Why did so many do so little?”

The plaintiffs appealed that decision last March.


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