Juliana v. U.S. Trial

By: Zoe Pringle

In a landmark case, 21 youth plaintiffs, including South alumna Kelsey Juliana, and organizational plaintiff, Earth Guardians, are suing the federal government over the constitutional right for a safe climate. The plaintiffs are represented by Our Children’s Trust, an organization focused on legal climate action. The trial, Juliana v. U.S., was filed in 2015 against the U.S. government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. South students marched to the courthouse and flooded the courtrooms during the initial hearing in Eugene, Ore.

On June 9, the Trump administration filed a mandamus petition — a special order that compels a judicial or government officer to perform a duty owed to the petitioner claiming that the youth plaintiffs “are not entitled to any discovery to support an unfounded constitutional claim.” Shortly after, the plaintiffs replied to the Trump administration’s mandamus petition, making it clear that the U.S. government already admitted that its actions imperil youth plaintiffs.

This is not the first time the Trump administration has made big headlines with their stance on climate change. This week the Trump administration significantly decreased the size, and therefore the protection, of the Bear Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This action left those in support of the Juliana v. U.S. trial fearful of his future possible actions.

Because the trial had already been delayed for two years, and given the urgency of the climate change crisis and the time sensitivity of alleviating the damages of global warming, the defendants maintained a sense of urgency in pushing the trial forward.

On Dec. 11, the plaintiffs, represented by their attorneys, gave oral argument before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Calif., to decide whether the Trump administration can evade trial, set for Feb. 5, 2018. The argument was heard by three judges, Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, Judge Marsha Berzon and Judge Alex Kozinski. Judges Thomas and Berzon are historically liberal, making the predictions of the hearing in favor for the plaintiffs. Judge Kozinski.

“They will live far longer than you,” Olson replied in response to Kozinski’s questioning of the specificity of youth as plaintiffs. “The significance of the harm, the monumental threat these injuries pose to the plaintiffs, is very distinguishable from the rest of the country.”

The defense attorney’s major arguments were on the basis of time, as the trial was filed over two years ago, and the constitutional right to a healthy climate. The attorneys had to convince the judges that they should let the trial move forward. However, the judges were concerned that if they grant this, the floodgates will open for future cases to also move forward on similar grounds. To counter this argument from the judges, the defendant attorneys strongly emphasized the previous declaration that this trial is “unprecedented,” and that the case is asking for the government to uphold the Fifth Amendment, setting it apart from other cases.

South students gathered in an IHS classroom to watch a livestream of the hearing during second period on Dec. 11. For many students it was the first time seeing a real court case in action.

“Watching the livestream of hearing was frustrating for our group at times, particularly regarding Judge Kozinski’s hostile demeanor toward Julia Olson,” senior and Earth Guardians 350 leader, Corina MacWilliams said. “I’m optimistic about how the judges will rule; I think they were presented with enough evidence and reasoning to prove that not dismissing the writ of mandamus would be illogical and harmful to the chance the US has of being able to preserve a livable climate for future generations.”

With positive predictions of the most recent hearing, Juliana v. U.S. supporters are hopeful that the trial will move forward, giving science its day in court.

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