Environmental Law

Judge dismisses Trump from climate change suit, says case can go to trial

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President Donald Trump./Shealah Craighead via White House and Wikimedia Commons.

A lawsuit blaming the federal government for failing to take action to stop climate change can proceed to trial, but the plaintiffs must proceed without President Donald Trump as a defendant, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene, Oregon, ruled Monday in the suit filed by a group of 21 youths, the nonprofit youth environmental group Earth Guardians, and a climate scientist who serves as guardian for “future generations.” Reuters, the Oregonian and Bloomberg have coverage.

Aiken said the plaintiffs hadn’t shown that Trump was essential to the case, and “due respect for separation of powers” requires his dismissal as a defendant. The dismissal of Trump was without prejudice, and he could be added to the case if developments warrant it, Aiken said.

The judge said she had the authority to hear the case after the plaintiffs introduced sufficient evidence to demonstrate issues of fact regarding the government’s “knowledge, actions and alleged deliberate indifference” to the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights.

The suit claims the government is violating the constitutional rights of future generations by continuing to allow fossil fuels that foster climate change. The plaintiffs claim that the government is violating the right of people in the future to life, liberty and property under the Fifth Amendment.

Aiken said she was not changing her decision to allow the claim constitutional claim. She cited her prior decision that said: “Where a complaint alleges knowing governmental action is affirmatively and substantially damaging the climate system in a way that will cause human deaths, shorten human lifespans, result in widespread damage to property, threaten human food sources, and dramatically alter the planet’s ecosystem, it states a claim for a due process violation.”

Aiken warned that after the claim is reviewed at trial, plaintiffs “must still clear a very high bar to ultimately succeed.”

If she finds there is a constitutional violation, Aiken said, she would “exercise great care in fashioning a remedy.” She could still find that requested remedies violate separation of powers, or she could design a remedy that “need not micromanage federal agencies or make policy judgments that the Constitution leaves to other branches,” Aiken said.

The suit was originally filed during the Obama administration and was amended to name Trump and his administration officials. The case is scheduled for trial on Oct. 29. Before Aiken’s ruling, the federal government asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco to issue a stay while it seeks U.S. Supreme Court review.

The executive director of Our Children’s Trust is co-counsel for the plaintiffs. Its press release is here.

The case is Juliana v. United States.

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