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Trump-Appointed Judges Grant DOJ Request to Toss Landmark Youth Climate Case

Three consecutive administrations have worked to prevent a trial, using legal tactics to delay and derail the case.

A crowd of hundreds gathers in Director Park for the #YouthvGov for the Right to a Livable Future rally on June 4, 2019, in Portland, Oregon.

A panel of three Trump-appointed judges on Wednesday granted the Biden Justice Department’s request to have a landmark youth climate case dismissed, another setback for a long-running effort to hold the U.S. government accountable for damaging the planet and violating the rights of younger generations.

The order handed down by a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel instructs an Oregon district court to toss Juliana v. United States for lack of standing, siding with the Justice Department’s emergency petition for a writ of mandamus — which the DOJ itself describes as “an extraordinary remedy” that “should only be used in exceptional circumstances of peculiar emergency or public importance.”

Julia Olson, co-executive director of Our Children’s Trust, a public interest law firm backing the youth plaintiffs, said in a statement Wednesday that “the Biden administration was wrong to use an emergency measure to stop youth plaintiffs from having their day in court.”

“The real emergency is the climate emergency,” said Olson. “This emergency was not created by these young people, who have just been stripped of their fundamental constitutional rights by one of the highest courts in our country. Children deserve access to justice.”

Calling the 9th Circuit decision “tragic and unjust” and “wrong on the law,” Olson said the legal fight is “not over” and stressed that President Joe Biden “can still make this right by coming to the settlement table.”

Juliana v. United States was brought in 2015 by 21 young Americans who argued the federal government has violated their “fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property” by continuing to allow the extraction of fossil fuels despite knowing their central role in destructive planetary heating.

Three consecutive administrations have worked aggressively to prevent a trial, deploying emergency legal tactics to delay and derail the youth-led case even as climate impacts became increasingly devastating in the U.S. and around the world.

Mat dos Santos, general counsel of Our Children’s Trust, warned last month that “it’s a mistake” for the Biden administration to “take this position in an election year, especially when young voters continue to be more and more disenchanted with the current administration and the permitting of big fossil fuel projects.”

“This is an opportunity for the administration to do right by young people,” he added.

Earlier this year, just before parties to the case were set to receive trial dates from a federal judge in Oregon, the Biden Justice Department filed a motion to stay the case and then another to have it tossed, drawing outrage from the youth plaintiffs. Dozens of members of Congress have weighed in on the side of the plaintiffs, arguing they should be allowed a trial to present their arguments and evidence.

Avery McRae, one of the plaintiffs, said in response to the 9th Circuit order on Wednesday that “every time we get a decision as devastating as this one, I lose more and more hope that my country is as democratic as it says it is.”

“I have been pleading for my government to hear our case since I was 10 years old, and I am now nearly 19,” said McRae. “A functioning democracy would not make a child beg for their rights to be protected in the courts, just to be ignored nearly a decade later. I am fed up with the continuous attempts to squash this case and silence our voices.”

Another plaintiff, Nathan Baring, said that “we will keep fighting for climate justice, but this is another dark day for protecting young people from climate harm imposed by their government.”