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Supreme Court Temporarily Halts Teen Climate Change Suit

Oct. 20, 2018, 8:14 PM

Chief Justice John Roberts has ordered a temporary stay on pretrial fact-finding and the Oct. 29 start of a novel trial in an Oregon courtroom, where a group of young people want a judge to rule that the federal government is constitutionally bound to address climate change.

Roberts set an Oct. 24 deadline for plaintiffs to file a response in the U.S. Supreme Court to the federal government’s emergency request—made Oct. 18—to stop the trial from proceeding.

“We are confident once Chief Justice Roberts and the full court receive the youth plaintiffs’ response to defendants’ mischaracterization of their case, the trial will proceed,” Julia Olson, a lawyer for the youths, said in statement after the Oct. 19 order.

If so, much is at stake for the Trump administration: If the case eventually succeeds, it could force the government to develop a comprehensive policy to reduce greenhouse gases across multiple sectors.

Suit Filed During Obama Administration

The lawsuit was initially brought in 2015 by 21 youth plaintiffs ranging in age from 10 to 21. In it, they argue the federal government’s failure to address global warming has violated a constitutional right to a livable climate. Like the Trump administration now, the Obama administration had also attempted to get the case thrown out.

The teenagers also claim the government has violated the public trust doctrine—which states the government holds essential natural resources such as land, water, or wildlife in trust for its citizens. That obligation includes the atmosphere, they argue.

Judges on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March rejected an earlier Trump administration attempt to kill the case, arguing it would be premature. The Supreme Court this summer initially declined to take up the case.

The case is Juliana v. United States, D. Or., No. 6:15-cv-01517, 10/15/18.

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To contact the reporters on this story: Kartikay Mehrotra in San Francisco at kmehrotra2@bloomberg.net; Abby Smith in Washington at asmith@bloombergenvironment.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Elizabeth Wollman at ewollman@bloomberg.net; Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergenvironment.com