Juliana v. United States plaintiffs attend a hearing in San Francisco in DecemberThe youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States attended the Ninth Circuit hearing in December. Photo credit: Robin Loznak

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By Dana Drugmand

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to sidetrack the Juliana v. United States youth climate case on Wednesday, denying the government’s writ of mandamus request and allowing the landmark lawsuit to proceed toward trial.

The three-judge panel concluded that the writ of mandamus—a rarely requested and even more rarely granted motion to overturn a lower court decision before a trial’s conclusion—was not warranted.

“Absent any discovery order, the mandamus petition is premature insofar as it is premised on a fear of burdensome discovery,” Ninth Circuit chief judge Sidney Thomas wrote in the opinion, noting that discovery had not even begun.

Thomas, along with judges Marsha Berzon and Michelle Friedland, listed five factors that determine if mandamus is appropriate. The first two involve lacking any other means to seek relief. The other three relate to the order by U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken,  whether it was erroneous by law, whether it showed a persistent disregard of federal rules and whether it raised problems or issues of first impression.

The government’s argument did not satisfy any of these factors, according to the Ninth Circuit opinion. “The issues that the defendants raise on mandamus are better addressed through the ordinary course of litigation,” Thomas wrote.

The decision comes nearly three months after both sides presented oral arguments in December. Since then, Friedland replaced one of the original judges on the panel, Alex Kozinski, who resigned shortly after the hearing while facing numerous allegations of sexual misconduct over the course of his career.

“The Ninth Circuit just gave us the green light for trial. We will ask the District Court for a trial date in 2018 where we will put the federal government’s dangerous energy system and climate policies on trial for infringing the constitutional rights of young people,” Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-counsel for youth plaintiffs, said in a statement.

The government could still appeal this decision. It could seek a review from the Supreme Court, or it could request a review from the full Ninth Circuit. Olson said it is unlikely that other judges would go against the panel and grant the mandamus order. “The chief judge of the Ninth Circuit has written a very clear and solid opinion that most judges will agree with, that they do not want to open the floodgates to defendants coming into the court of appeals because they lose a motion to dismiss and they don’t want to go to trial,” Olson said in an interview. “That is not how our court system is set up, and they do not want to be open to that kind of defense posturing.”

Olson said her team will request a case management conference next. That will set up a schedule to work with Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin and the Department of Justice to set a tight schedule for discovery. “We hope to be at trial in six months, that’s our goal,” she said.

The young plaintiffs are eager to get that started.

“The question of the last few years has not been ‘do we have a case’ but rather ‘how far will the federal government go to prevent justice.’ We have seen that they are willing to go to many lengths to cover up their crimes and maintain the status quo, but not even the Trump administration can go far enough to escape the inevitable tide of social progress,” added Kiran Oommen, 21-year-old plaintiff from Seattle. The Ninth Circuit’s decision affirms that we are on the side of justice, and for justice we are moving forward. We’ll see you in court.”