Children, young adults cannot sue U.S. government over climate change:
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[January 18, 2020]
By Sebastien Malo and Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - A U.S. federal appeals court on
Friday threw out a lawsuit by children and young adults who claimed they
had a constitutional right to be protected from climate change, in a
major setback to efforts to spur the U.S. government to address the
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the
plaintiffs, who were between the ages of 8 and 19 when the lawsuit began
in 2015, lacked legal standing to sue the United States.
Circuit Judge Andrew Hurwitz said the majority reached its conclusion
"reluctantly," given "compelling" evidence the government had long
promoted fossil fuels despite knowing they could cause catastrophic
climate change, and that failing to change policies could hasten an
Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based non-profit behind the lawsuit,
said in a statement that it would seek an 11-judge panel of the court to
review the decision. The ruling had "catastrophic implications," said
Julia Olson, the group's executive director.
A Department of Justice spokesman said the government was pleased with
The 21 children and young adults had accused federal officials and oil
industry executives of violating their due process right to a "climate
system capable of sustaining human life," by knowing for decades that
carbon pollution poisons the environment but doing nothing about it.
The government argued that neither U.S. law or history supported the
young people's claim of a fundamental right to a "livable climate." It
also called the lawsuit an unconstitutional attempt to control the
entire country's climate and energy policy through a single court.
Hurwitz said the case left "little basis for denying that climate change
is occurring at an increasingly rapid pace," but that addressing it
required "complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to
the wisdom and discretion" of the White House and Congress.
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Climate change activists take part in a demonstration of the Fridays
for Future movement in Lausanne, Switzerland January 17, 2020.
"That the other branches may have abdicated their responsibility to
remediate the problem does not confer on Article III courts, no
matter how well-intentioned, the ability to step into their shoes,"
The dissenting judge, U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton, said the
Constitution did not "condone the Nation's willful destruction"
through climate change, likening government inaction to shutting
down all defenses to an asteroid barreling toward Earth.
"No case can singlehandedly prevent the catastrophic effects of
climate change predicted by the government and scientists," she
wrote. "The mere fact that this suit cannot alone halt climate
change does not mean that it presents no claim suitable for judicial
Dan Farber, a professor of law at the University of California,
Berkeley, said the ruling closed the door on federal litigation
seeking "courts to take bold action on climate change on their own."
The judges on the panel were all appointed by President Barack
Obama, a Democrat. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon,
had allowed the case to go forward.
(Reporting by Sebastien Malo and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by Tom
Brown and Rosalba O'Brien)
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