Supreme Court Halts Youth Climate Case After Trump Effort to Kill Suit

In a move author and activist Naomi Klein denounced as “disgraceful and enraging,” the US Supreme Court has halted a lawsuit brought by 21 American children and young adults that aims to hold the federal government accountable for its ongoing failure to adequately curb greenhouse gas emissions to battle the global climate crisis.

The decision came in response to a last-ditch effort by the Trump administration to kill the “potentially landmark” case ahead of the trial slated to begin in the US District Court for the District of Oregon on Oct. 29.

The case has been tied up in the legal system for three years. Just this week, District Court Judge Ann Aiken reaffirmed that the youth plaintiffs can credibly claim that the government has violated their due process rights. The Supreme Court, however, stayed discovery and the trial in an order (pdf) issued Friday, demanding a response from the plaintiffs’ legal counsel by Wednesday afternoon.

Michael Gerrard, director of Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia, called the move “highly unusual” and “reminiscent of their stay of the Clean Power Plan.”

Farron Cousins, a radio host and executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, tied the development to the upcoming midterms, tweeting:

While the high court’s one-page order provoked public outrage, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, co-counsel for the youth plaintiffs, remained optimistic and said the team plans to file their reply on Monday.

“We are confident once Chief [John] Justice Roberts and the full court receive the youth plaintiffs’ response to defendants’ mischaracterization of their case, the trial will proceed,” she said. “As the Supreme Court has recognized in innumerable cases, review of constitutional questions is better done on a full record where the evidence is presented and weighed by the trier of fact. This case is about already recognized fundamental rights and children’s rights of equal protection under the law.”

As E&E News noted, “Roberts’ action came hours after Jeffrey Wood, a top political appointee at the Department of Justice, said there is no such right. Speaking at a law conference in San Diego, Wood said the right to a safe climate that the plaintiffs demand ‘simply does not exist,’ adding that the government is still preparing for trial.”

Several observers pointed out that the Supreme Court had previously allowed the case to proceed, back before the contentious new Justice Brett Kavanaugh replaced now-retired Anthony Kennedy. Environmental attorney Jeffrey Gracer remarked: “A newly configured Supreme Court seems poised to close the courthouse doors. But the tide of #ClimateAction cannot be stopped.”