It’s not often you celebrate going to court, but 21 kids are doing just that after a federal appeals court rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to halt a landmark climate change lawsuit on Wednesday.
First brought in 2015 in Oregon, the lawsuit asserts that the government has violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by failing to combat climate change and by promoting the use of fossil fuels. The Trump administration had requested that the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals throw out the case before a federal district court could hold a trial, an unusual move that Judge Sidney Thomas, the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, found “entirely premature.”
Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust—the group backing the lawsuit—and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs, said in a statement that they will ask the District Court for a trial date in 2018 “where we will put the federal government’s dangerous energy system and climate policies on trial for infringing the constitutional rights of young people.”
In 2016, the Obama administration also tried to get the case dismissed, but an Oregon federal district judge rejected the request and set a trial date for February 2018. Then the Trump administration tried to employ an unusual legal tactic called “writ of mandamus,” in which an appeals court reviews the lower court’s ruling before the case proceeds to trial.
The 9th Circuit panel decided 3-0 that a halt was not justified, stating that “there is enduring value in the orderly administration of litigation by the trial courts, free of needless appellate interference...if appellate review could be invoked whenever a district court denied a motion to dismiss, we would be quickly overwhelmed with such requests, and the resolution of cases would be unnecessarily delayed.”
Victoria Barrett, an 18-year-old plaintiff from White Plains, New York, responded to the ruling with a statement saying “The Trump administration tried to avoid trial, but they can’t ignore us. Our future is our choice and I believe the courts will stand with our constitutional rights.”
Federal and state climate lawsuits have been growing for a decade, and the Trump administration’s position of climate change denial has only elevated this pressure. Olson told The Washington Post she hopes to get depositions from from multiple representatives of top federal agencies, as well as from leading climate scientists—thus forcing the government to defend its controversial positions.
Even if the legal outcome doesn’t end up addressing all the plaintiffs’ demands, the case will inspire other young people to stand up for the beliefs and for the world they are going to inherit.