A landmark climate case brought against the federal government by 21 children and young adults has survived the highest-level attempt by the Trump administration to block the lawsuit.
On Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously refused to throw out the case, saying it can go ahead as planned. The decision comes after the Justice Department went to the high court earlier this month in a last-ditch effort to have the case thrown out.
The landmark lawsuit, which seeks to compel the government to preserve a clean atmosphere, argues that the government is violating its obligation to future generations by not doing so.
In Monday’s decision — which came less than two weeks after the administration filed its request — the court rejected the administration’s attempt to block any further legal action, stating, “the government’s request for relief is premature and is denied without prejudice.”
In what legal experts have called groundbreaking climate litigation, the lawsuit seeks to hold the federal government accountable for its role in perpetuating climate change. A final decision could shape the future of climate litigation for years to come.
The case can now proceed to trial. It is currently scheduled for October 29 but this date could be pushed depending on how discovery goes.
The decision comes after a similar request by the administration to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in March to have the case dismissed. This request was also rejected last week.
“This decision should give young people courage and hope that their third branch of government, all the way up to the Supreme Court, has given them the green light to go to trial in this critical case about their unalienable rights,” said Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiff.
The climate lawsuit, brought by nonprofit organization Our Children’s Trust, was first filed in August 2015 against the Obama administration. In January 2017, the Trump administration was named as a defendant in the case.
The lawsuit uses a legal theory known as atmospheric trust litigation, which argues the government must hold certain common elements such as rivers or shorelines, and in this case, the atmosphere, for public use. By failing to protect and preserve a clean atmosphere for future generations — by promoting fossil fuels, for instance — the lawsuit argues that the government is violating its obligation to the public trust.
Since it was first introduced nearly three years ago, the case has survived numerous attempts by government to have it dismissed.
In its decision Monday afternoon, the Supreme Court said “the breadth of [the lawsuit’s] claims is striking.” It ordered the District Court in Oregon — where the trial will take place — to take the federal government’s “concerns into account in assessing the burdens of discovery and trial.” In its court filing, the government had argued that the process of discovery was too burdensome.
“I am so grateful that the Supreme Court has recognized the importance of this trial and allowed our case to proceed,” Jacob L., a 21-year-old plaintiff from Roseburg, Oregon, said in a statement.
“The scientific evidence linking the U.S. government’s actions and policies to climate change impacts like wildfire and droughts that harm us youth must be presented before our country’s justice system in its entirety to ensure that our rights may be protected.”