Lauren R. Stevens: Young take lead on climate fight
WILLIAMSTOWN — The 21 young climate heroes who assert that the federal government, by its actions that increase climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, march on, while the Trump administration continues to explode the legal minefields in their path.
On Nov. 2 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, apparently over the objections of Justices Gorsuch and Thomas, for the second time, that Juliana v. The United States of America should proceed, but on Nov. 9, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government another temporary stay and excused President Trump as a defendant. On the same day, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken, District of Oregon, told the parties she would set a trial date as soon as the Ninth Circuit lifted the stay.
Although the Trump administration dismisses the science, should the case go ahead, should the plaintiffs win and should potential appeals go their way, the federal government would be forced to come up with a strategy for combating climate change. Even if all of this doesn't come to pass, the plaintiffs hope that their court case would provide an opportunity to air the issues in public.
Kelsey Juliana, the eldest of the group at 22, and her friends, are supported by Our Children's Trust, a nonprofit that has initiated several climate lawsuits. The group seeks to apply the public trust doctrine, by which the government must care for public lands, to the atmosphere. Earth Guardians, "a tribe of young activists, artists and musicians," is also a party to the suit.
Judge Aiken has previously stated: "I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society."
On a previous trial date of Oct. 29, activists congregated at courthouses throughout the country. On the prior Saturday, townspeople and Williams College students held a vigil in front of the First Congregational Church, Williamstown, hearing from, among others, two college-age friends of some of the plaintiffs. Their signs were met with friendly beeps from automobiles on Route 2.
Judge Aiken's court is in Eugene, Oregon, home state of 11 of the plaintiffs. The others are a diverse group from across the country. The youngest is 11 years old. All have been active in climate justice issues.
The Department of Justice has argued that there is no constitutional right to clean air and that, should this case move forward it would cause "irreparable harm" to the government — presumably interfering with its assault on immigrants and voters' rights. The Department of Justice maintains that a precedent would be set that any group of citizens could go to court over any governmental action they didn't like. Americans do, in fact, enjoy the right to seek judicial redress against government actions that harm them, as has been exercised in numerous civil rights cases. But then, the government also defined this as an environmental case, while at issue actually are civil rights.
More information — and an opportunity to offer pro bono legal support or cash — is available at Our Children's Trust.org.
At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.
A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.
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