Young plaintiffs of the landmark climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, are pushing back against the Biden administration’s attempts to postpone the legal battle. Filed in 2015, the case has seen a group of youth plaintiffs, now aged in their mid-to-late 20s, accuse the U.S. government of infringing upon their constitutional rights by contributing to climate change and failing to safeguard essential public trust resources.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) recent request for a stay in the proceedings has met with staunch opposition from the plaintiffs. They argue that the DOJ’s appeal for a writ of mandamus—an extraordinary legal measure reserved for urgent situations—is unjustified, given the pressing nature of the climate crisis they highlight.
The inception of Juliana v. United States traces back to a group of young individuals, then aged between 8 and 19 years, taking a stand against what they perceived as governmental negligence towards environmental protection. Their legal challenge asserts that the federal government’s actions and policies have directly contributed to the climate emergency, thus violating their rights to life, liberty, and property.
Throughout the administrations of Obama, Trump, and Biden, efforts have been made to dismiss the case, with the U.S. Supreme Court halting its progress to trial in 2018. However, in a pivotal ruling on December 29, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken decided that the plaintiffs could proceed to trial, setting the stage for a courtroom showdown on January 19. This was abruptly interrupted by the DOJ’s announcement on January 18 of their intention to file for a writ of mandamus, seeking to prevent the trial from commencing.
The plaintiffs’ response to the DOJ’s actions has been firm and resolute. Their challenge to the stay highlights the gravity of the climate emergency, contrasting it with the DOJ’s portrayal of the situation as a procedural inconvenience. They emphasize the “true irreparable harm” as the ongoing and future costs of climate-related disasters, exacerbated by governmental delays and inaction.
Supporting the plaintiffs’ stance, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz submitted a declaration that criticized the DOJ’s claim of “irreparable harm” due to the allocation of resources for the trial. Stiglitz argues that equating the financial burden of litigation with the profound impact on the plaintiffs’ health, homes, and constitutional rights undermines the essence of justice and accountability.
The legal strategies employed by the DOJ have drawn criticism for their perceived aggressiveness and discrimination against the youth plaintiffs. The filing by the plaintiffs contends that the DOJ’s tactics are not only unprecedented in their scope but also in their targeting of young individuals advocating for their constitutional rights and the broader public interest.
The continuous legal delays have taken a toll on the plaintiffs, who have spent a significant portion of their lives embroiled in this legal battle. The case’s postponement not only affects the individuals involved but also sends a broader message about the challenges of seeking environmental justice through the legal system.
Public and expert support for the plaintiffs has been robust, with figures like Stiglitz and organizations advocating for environmental justice rallying behind the cause. This collective backing underscores the case’s significance beyond the courtroom, highlighting its potential to influence public policy and awareness around climate change.
Juliana v. United States represents more than a legal dispute; it embodies the growing call for accountability and action in the face of the climate crisis. As the plaintiffs seek their day in court, the outcome of this case could set a precedent for future environmental litigation.
In his motion supporting the plaintiffs, Stiglitz poignantly remarked, “The balancing of potential harms is clear: This case should finally be decided at trial without further delay.”