By Dana Drugmand
More than a dozen groups filed friend-of-the-court briefs to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the landmark youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States.
The wide support came from businesses, members of Congress, environmental groups and environmental law organizations, environmental historians, law professors and international lawyers, the libertarian think tank Niskanen Center, public health experts, and religious and women’s groups. One brief submitted on behalf of young people included more than 30,000 signatures from across the U.S. and around the world.
“The Trump administration is doing everything it can to stop Juliana v. United States from going to trial. The youth cannot let that happen. We are filing the Young People’s brief to show that thousands of youth across America not only feel the urgency of climate action, but also understand that the youth climate lawsuit must proceed to secure a livable future,” said Jamie Margolin, 17-year-old founder of the nonprofit Zero Hour who is also a plaintiff in the Washington state climate lawsuit Aji P. v. State of Washington. Margolin spearheaded a campaign called “Join Juliana” calling for young people under age 25 to sign the youth amicus brief.
The high-profile case was featured in a “60 Minutes” segment that aired Sunday night. Juliana alleges that the U.S. government’s role in perpetuating a fossil fuel energy system–despite knowledge of the climate consequences–violates young people’s Constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. It also claims the government has abandoned its public trust obligations to protect vital natural resources. The case is currently under a rare pre-trial appeal after the Ninth Circuit granted a Trump administration motion to review the case before trial.
The government recently filed its brief in that appeal, arguing that there is no “fundamental constitutional right to a ‘stable climate system.’” The government’s position is backed by one amicus brief filed by pro-fossil fuel interests including Merit Oil Company, Liberty Packing Company, Western States Trucking Association, and the National Federation of Independent Business Small Business Legal Center.
The list of amicus briefs that lend support to the young plaintiffs has reached 15. They include:
- More than a half dozen businesses and trade associations including organic food companies and the skiing and snowsports industry, which argue that federal government action addressing climate change is essential to protecting their businesses, which are already being harmed by climate impacts.
- Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, as well as Reps. Debra Haaland of New Mexico, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, and Peter DeFazio and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon argue that the judiciary has a duty to assess the constitutionality of co-equal branches of government: “Not only does the Court have the power to interpret the law and provide remedies for systemic violations, the federal judiciary as a whole must fulfill its duty despite the inappropriate politicization of climate change.”
- Three different briefs were filed by environmental groups, including Earthjustice on behalf of Earth Rights International, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Union of Concerned Scientists; Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and Greenpeace; and the Sierra Club. The briefs argue the plaintiffs have standing and the authority to bring a suit. The Sierra Club brief delves into what it calls the government’s deliberate indifference in causing climate change.
- Environmental law organizations including Center for International Environmental Law and Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide argue that international law, scientific and political consensus supports the recognition that fundamental rights include the right to a climate system capable of sustaining life.
- A brief on behalf of 78 environmental historians explains the history and traditions underpinning the plaintiffs’ substantive due process claim.
- Legal scholars, including 82 law professors, defend the district court’s recognition of valid constitutional claims under the due process clause.
- International Lawyers for International Law say international law supports a legal remedy for violations of fundamental rights.
- The Niskanen Center, which is supporting a Colorado climate liability suit against two oil companies, argues that the federal government has a public trust obligation that includes protecting the atmosphere and that the Clean Air Act does not displace this duty.
- Public health experts, including a variety of medical and health organizations and 78 individual doctors, detail how today’s children (the “Juliana generation”) are particularly harmed by climate change impacts.
- Two separate briefs were filed on behalf of multiple interfaith groups and two others represent young people. One of those comes from the Sunrise Movement, the environmental group behind the Green New Deal, and Zero Hour. The Sunrise brief includes an appendix of personal statements by more than 30 youth under age 18 explaining how climate change impacts them. The Zero Hour brief argues that the court has a duty to review infringements on the constitutional rights of young people.
“I am so hyped to see how many other young people feel empowered to support us in this amicus brief and push for change for our futures and future generations,” said Miko Vergun, 17-year-old Juliana plaintiff from Beaverton, Ore. “The amount of young people, in the United States and around the world, who added their names to support this brief is a representation of all the youth who know that their futures and their planet are at stake.”
Oral arguments on the interlocutory appeal will begin June 3 in Portland, Ore.