Kids Clear Key Hurdle in Their Federal Climate Change Lawsuit

The pathway is cleared for 21 kids to take the Obama administration to court over US climate policies.

Kids Clear Key Hurdle in Their Federal Climate Change Lawsuit

The 21 youth plaintiffs, along with climatologist James Hansen (top, third from left) pose with Our Children's Trust attorneys Phil Gregory (top left) and Julia Olson (bottom left). (Clayton Aldern/Grist & BillMoyers.com)

This post first appeared at Grist.

Should kids be able to sue for a safe climate? A federal judge just said yes.

Last month, in Eugene, Oregon, a district court heard 21 youth plaintiffs’ arguments as to why their case should proceed to trial. The kids allege that by failing to act on climate change, the US government — including the president and a handful of federal agencies — have violated several of their constitutional rights. As we reported in March:

The complaint alleges violation of the kids’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. By failing to act on climate change, it argues, the government discriminates against youth as a class. Without access to a healthy climate, they’re deprived of their fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property.

The complaint is also built on the public trust doctrine, a carryover from English common law that says a government has the duty to protect certain natural resources and systems on behalf of current and future generations. “It originated with Emperor Justinian in Rome,” Alex Loznak, a 19-year-old plaintiff, explained to the press. “It’s reflected in the Magna Carta, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and cited in US court decisions dating back to the 1800s.”

Backed by a slew of fossil fuel interests, the Justice Department filed a complaint arguing for the case’s dismissal. Now, with the new decision in hand, the 21 youth plaintiffs will head back to federal court for a proper hearing.

Said lead attorney Philip Gregory in a statement, “This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history.” If the kids win in the big leagues, that might actually be true.

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Clayton Aldern

Clayton Aldern is a senior fellow at Grist. Follow him on Twitter: @compatibilism.