Burden of Youth

The federal government attempts, once again, to snag a lawsuit filed by kids over climate change.

Supporters of youth plaintiffs suing the federal government over climate change file into the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for oral arguments on Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. (Ida Mojadad/S.F. Weekly)

The kids aren’t going to be alright, both they and climate scientists say.

In oral arguments heard by a three-panel judge in San Francisco’s U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Monday, a lawyer on behalf of 21 youth plaintiffs held the federal government responsible for the impact of impending climate change.

The 2015 suit, filed in Oregon by plaintiffs ranging in age from 10 to 21, targeted the Obama administration, who had actions like the Clean Power Plan to weaken the claim of inaction. The Trump administration has rolled back many of those measures.

Though the lawsuit cleared multiple hurdles and has a trial date of February 2018, the federal government petitioned the Ninth Circuit to reconsider this decision. U.S. Department of Justice attorney Eric Grant repeatedly called the case unprecedented, meritless, and a judicial overreach.

“This court is on a collision course with the executive branch,” Grant said at the hearing.

In a blow to the Trump administration, judges did not seem willing to grant a mandamus petition —which would allow it and many others who lost motions to dismiss their cases to rush to the Ninth Circuit.

But the plaintiffs still have their share of convincing to do. Judge Alex Kozinski — who, it’s worth mentioning, was accused of sexual misconduct last week — appeared especially skeptical of how the courts would enforce action among multiple agencies that might come to different solutions. Julia Olson, lawyer for the plaintiffs, likened judicial action in this case to the enforcement of desegregation that came from Brown v. Board of Education.

“They will live far longer than you,” Olson said when Kozinski argued that impacts of climate change would be felt by everyone. “The significance of the harm, the monumental threat these injuries pose to the plaintiffs, is very distinguishable from the rest of the country.”

All but three of the plaintiffs — whose origins range from Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana, and Alaska — were present for the hearing, as supporters rallied in the plaza across the street.

In the days or weeks ahead, Ninth Circuit judges Kozinski, Marsha Berzon, and Sidney Thomas will decide whether it moves forward or not.

“I hope that the court understands the urgency of the climate crisis and allows our case to proceed to trial,” says 17-year-old plaintiff Jaime Butler in a statement. “This case will ultimately determine the livelihood of my tribe, the Navajo Nation, and all native people in this country.”

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