Kids suing the U.S. government for climate change are pressing for the right to a livable climateThe kids suing the U.S. government over climate change argue they should have a right to a livable climate. Photo credit: Robin Loznak
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By Karen Savage

The 21 young people suing the federal government for exacerbating climate change say denying them a trial is to deny them the right to a safe and and livable future.

The young plaintiffs in the constitutional climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, filed their reply to the Trump administration’s opening brief in the interlocutory appeal of their case being heard by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. They are asking the Ninth Circuit to allow the trial to proceed in U.S. District Court.

“These young people deserve the chance to present their full case against their government who is harming them and let the light of justice fall where it may,” said Julia Olson, co-counsel for the young plaintiffs.

The Trump administration succeeded in halting the suit, which was first filed in 2015, when a three-judge panel the Ninth Circuit agreed to hear a rare pre-trial appeal. The government has repeatedly fought to stop the suit, which  alleges the government is violating the young plaintiffs their Constitutional rights to life, liberty and property by promoting an energy system that exacerbates climate change. They also say the government is failing to protect essential public trust resources and are asking for a science-based program to reduce carbon emissions and protect the climate for future generations.

In November 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ordered the case to trial, ruling that “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

In its opening brief in the appeal, the Trump administration said there is “no fundamental constitutional right to a ‘stable climate system’ and contend that because “global climate change affects everyone in the world,” the plaintiffs are not suffering from a legally actionable injury, but from “generalized grievances.”

The young plaintiffs argue they do not need to be the only ones harmed by the government’s role in causing climate change, nor does the government need to be the only entity responsible for it in order to be held accountable. They also maintain that federal government relied on incorrect arguments when it said that the case should not proceed to trial as stipulated under Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which says that issues involving constitutional rights should be heard in a court of law.

“When it abandons its duty under Article III to review the constitutionality of the political branches’ conduct, the judiciary permits infringements of constitutional rights to persist unchecked for decades,” the plaintiffs wrote in their brief.

“It’s hard for me to believe that the U.S. federal government doesn’t see how they stray away from the fundamental ethics of our constitution when they prioritize the interests of a few over the future stability of generations of young Americans. This rampant disregard for the needs of the vulnerable violates the rights secured to me by the constitution,” said Vic Barrett, a 19-year-old plaintiff from White Plains, N. Y.

Despite repeated efforts by the Trump administration to have the case dismissed, Olson said her young clients are not backing down.

“We will keep shining light on our fundamental constitutional rights until we obtain justice for our children and put an end to U.S.-sanctioned climate change,” Olson said.