The Origins of Juliana v. United States
In 2015, a group of 21 teenagers filed a lawsuit against the United States government. The lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, claimed that the constitutional rights of young people were being violated. The plaintiffs claimed that the government’s fossil fuel policies had led to dangerous levels of greenhouse gases in the air and violated the federal Public Trust Doctrine (PTD) and their constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The group also claimed they were being denied the right to life, liberty, and property that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed them. Within their claim, the teenagers asked the courts to state that any federal energy policy that contributes to climate change was unconstitutional.
The case was filed against President Barack Obama and several agencies within the executive branch, and sought confirmation that their constitutional and public trust rights had been violated by the government’s actions, and sought an order to enjoin the defendants from continued violation of their rights and to develop a plan to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.
Following the 2016 election, the federal defendants filed a response to the plaintiff’s complaint on January 13, 2017, one week before President Obama left office. About a month later, the complaint was amended to make the lead defendant newly-elected President Donald Trump. In the months that followed, the fossil fuel industry groups requested that they be removed from the case, believing that the Department of Justice under the Trump Administration would vigorously defend the case, unlike the Obama Administration.The National Association of Manufacturers, one of the fossil fuel groups, said that “as the dynamics have changed over the last several months, we no longer feel that our participation in this case is needed to safeguard industry and our workers”. In late June 2017, Judge Coffin released the fossil fuel industry defendants from the case, as well as establishing a trial date on February 5, 2018 before Judge Aiken
Today, the lawsuit is still working its way through the courts, but a lot has changed since four years ago when the case was first filed.
Within the lawsuit, the teenagers also stated that the United States government has known for over 50 years that pollution from fossil fuels and carbon cause climate change. They also claimed that the nation’s government promoted policies that increased oil and gas production, further contributing to climate change and stripping them of their rights.
What the Two Sides Say
Specifically, the group of teenagers is asking the government of the United States to stop subsidizing and licensing the fossil fuel industry. They also want the government to bring carbon dioxide concentration down to 350 parts per million by the end this century. This would restrict global warming to just one degree. That goal is more ambitious than the two-degree limit set by the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The United States government, on the other hand, doesn’t believe it should be held responsible. The government has claimed that there are no historical records that show a person’s right to a more reasonable and appropriate climate.
Implications of Outcome
While the case is still going through the courts four years after it was initially filed, its outcome will have significant implications. If the teenagers win their case, it could certainly leave the government open to more lawsuits in the future. However, it could also reduce the amount of global warming that is currently happening at its fastest pace yet. In fact, in the four years since the lawsuit was filed, the world has recorded its highest temperatures, and ice sheets in both Greenland and Antarctica are melting at what scientists call alarming rates.
If the teenagers lose their case, on the other hand, it would certainly shut the door for anyone to make similar claims in the future.
No one knows just yet how this case will be decided. It is known, though, that everyone in the country is watching to see the outcome because the implications, no matter what they are, will be great.
*a portion of this article was sourced from other news outlets to ensure that the statements given were as accurate and factually based as possible.