The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Justice Department’s request to stay discovery in a lawsuit filed by group of youths and young adults that alleges a constitutional right to a “stable climate system.”
Justices, however, took the unusual step of expressing doubts about the justiciability of the plaintiffs’ global warming claims and urged a “prompt ruling” on the federal government’s dispositive motions.
“The breadth of respondents’ claims is striking, however, and the justiciability of those claims presents substantial grounds for difference of opinion,” the Supreme Court ruled on Monday.
“The District Court should take these concerns into account in assessing the burdens of discovery and trial, as well as the desirability of a prompt ruling on the Government’s pending dispositive motions,” the court ruled.
Justices’ explicit criticism of the climate case and desire for a “prompt ruling” on dispositive motions suggests the Supreme Court wants the trial judge handling the case to make it go away. This could be the last action Justice Anthony Kennedy is involved in before retiring on Tuesday.
Indeed, legal experts were surprised the case got out of the gate given it asks the courts to set policies that are usually the prerogative of Congress. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Oregon in late October. (RELATED: Is Global Warming Really Fueling Wildfires Across Greece? Here’s What The Data Actually Says)
The U.S. District Court in Oregon surprisingly ruled in 2016 the plaintiffs had standing to sue. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed that ruling in March, compelling the Trump administration to seek intervention from the Supreme Court.
The Trump administration asked the high court to issue a stay on discovery earlier in July, the day after being Ninth Circuit Appeals Court denied the government’s request for a stay. The environmental group Our Children’s Trust filed the suit in 2015 on behalf of 21 youths.
The youths argue they have a right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life,” and that the government had violated the public trust doctrine to the detriment of future generations.
The government should move “to ensure that atmospheric CO2 is no more concentrated than 350 [parts per million] by 2100 … to stabilize the climate system,” reads the group’s legal complaint.
Critics say the lawsuit is simply a tactic to circumvent Congress and use the courts to impose global warming policies. However, Our Children’s Trust hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling, despite the court’s criticism of the broad nature of their case.
“This decision should give young people courage and hope that their third branch of government, all the way up to the Supreme Court, has given them the green light to go to trial in this critical case about their unalienable rights,” Julia Olson, the group’s chief legal counsel, said in a statement.
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