Attorneys for the Trump administration will have to convince a judge that pre-trial discovery in a climate change lawsuit filed against the U.S. government would cause it irreparable harm.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals announced on Thursday that it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 11 regarding a writ of mandamus filed by the government in Juliana v United States. In that case, 21 young people are suing the Trump administration for failing to protect their future against climate change.
Attorneys for the government filed the writ of mandamus after U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied their request to have the case dismissed.
A writ of mandamus is a rarely used and even more rarely approved legal maneuver in which a superior court is asked to order a lower court or government agency to comply with the law. It is usually granted under extraordinary circumstances and is considered a legal last resort.
Appeals are normally filed after the trial is held and evidence is presented, but a mandamus appeal could allow the federal government to avoid the discovery process and have the suit dismissed. The case has been paused since July pending a decision on this and other motions.
“This Administration can respond to the limited discovery we seek, and put on its junk climate science at trial in a court of law,” said Julia Olson, co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “What it can’t do is shut the courthouse doors to real constitutional injuries brought by these young people.”
In the suit, the young plaintiffs allege the federal government has failed to protect them, their families and future generations from the effects of climate change and say that the government must enact science-based plan to protect the planet.
Attorneys from the Department of Justice, which represents the federal government, did not respond to a request for comment.
The suit was originally filed in 2015 against the Obama administration. In a response filed days before Obama left office, DOJ attorneys admitted to many of the young plaintiff’s claims, including that monthly global average concentrations of CO2 have reached the dangerous threshold of 400 parts per million. In allegations regarding sea level rise, they admitted levels are slightly greater than what the plaintiffs claimed. After Donald Trump became president, the suit was altered to name him, as well as other current federal government officials, as defendants.
“What is urgently needed right now is a clear, scientific and constitutional discussion of the irreparable harm that climate change is doing to this nation’s youth and the ways we can hold our leaders accountable to begin serious climate recovery efforts,” said 20-year-old plaintiff Jacob Lebel, who said he was looking forward to a full trial.
“It is an extremely positive step that the Ninth Circuit has elected to hear oral argument,” said Phil Gregory, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, adding that he is hopeful that Judge Aiken’s order will be upheld, allowing the case to go forward.
Arguments will be heard at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“While there is no set timeline for the Ninth Circuit panel to issue a decision, we hope the urgency of the climate crisis is dictating this fast-track briefing and argument schedule,” said Gregory.
“We can’t delay anymore because climate change is an ongoing problem,” said 10-year-old plaintiff Levi Draheim.
“We need to deal with it right now and start reducing the things that are causing it,” said Draheim.“When we win the oral arguments, we can move on and start talking about how to fix the problem not just talk about it.”