‘Nothing Short of Outrageous’: Attorneys for Youth Climate Plaintiffs Blast Biden DOJ

“It is our hope and expectation that the courts will see through the DOJ’s tactics and ensure that this constitutional case gets to trial immediately,” said a lawyer with Our Children’s Trust.

By Jessica Corbett Published 7-7-2023 by Common Dreams

The 21 youth plaintiffs in the constitutional climate case Juliana v. United States pose for a photo in New York City. (Photo: Our Children’s Trust)

Nearly eight years since 21 young Americans launched a landmark federal climate lawsuit against the U.S. government, their lawyers this week called out President Joe Biden’s administration for trying to get the case dismissed using recycled arguments.

In a Friday statement responding to the U.S. Department of Justice’s most recent push to have Juliana v. United States dismissed, Andrea Rodgers, one of the Our Children’s Trust attorneys for the youth plaintiffs, charged that “the DOJ’s conduct throughout the course of this case has been nothing short of outrageous.”

Her comments came as the world has faced record-shattering heat throughout the week that bolstered demands for climate action.

“As children all around this country experience unprecedented temperatures, deadly wildfire smoke, and catastrophic storms, the government fiddles and tries to prevent these young plaintiffs from presenting evidence in open court as to how they are being harmed by their government’s national fossil fuel-based energy system,” Rodgers said. “It is our hope and expectation that the courts will see through the DOJ’s tactics and ensure that this constitutional case gets to trial immediately.”

First filed in August 2015, the suit claims that through the U.S. government’s actions that contribute to the climate emergency, it has violated young people’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and failed to protect essential public trust resources.

Throughout the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, Juliana has faced various hurdles—leading up to early last month, when U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the case could proceed to trial on an amended complaint.

Juliana plaintiff Nathan Baring said at the time that “our policymakers, legal scholars, and, most importantly, our judiciary, must now heed Judge Aiken’s words that ‘when government conduct catastrophically harms American citizens, the judiciary is constitutionally required to perform its independent role.”

Meanwhile, in late June, the Biden administration ignored public pressure to stop fighting the case and filed another motion to dismiss it, just after the conclusion of the nation’s the first-ever children’s constitutional climate trial. Our Children’s Trust represents the youth in that case, Held v. State of Montana, as well as the Juliana plaintiffs.

Attorneys with Our Children’s Trust and Gregory Law Group began their Thursday response to the recent dismissal request by declaring that “for eight years and across three presidential administrations, the United States government and its Department of Justice (DOJ) have sought not justice under the rule of law, but to ‘kill the Juliana case’ no matter its legal merit.”

“The U.S. DOJ has used every rare legal tool, more times than in any other case in history, to silence the constitutional claims of 21 of our nation’s youth,” the document notes. “Throughout the years of their failure, defendants have been unwilling to accept the standing and valid claims of these young people and previous rulings that this meritorious case should proceed to trial.”

“While they have been seeking to foil Juliana, every single administration has simultaneously expanded the United States’ fossil fuel energy system, thereby making this nation the largest producer of fossil fuels on Earth, exacerbating the climate crisis, and intensifying the constitutional injuries of these young plaintiffs,” the filing continues. “Defendants’ current motion to dismiss contravenes prior decisions of this court and the 9th Circuit, as well as President Biden’s own executive orders and commitments these defendants have made to the American people, and especially its youth.”

Urging the court to deny the DOJ’s “rinse-and-repeat” motion, the lawyers argued that “this case involves an emergency of epic proportions: it is time for the United States to stand trial for creating an ‘environmental apocalypse’ and putting these youth’s lives, health, and safety in jeopardy in intentional violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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