Historic Youth Climate Lawsuit Presses Forward

ACE is partnering with Our Children's Trust to support youth across the country in legal proceedings seeking science-based action by governments to secure a safe climate and healthy atmosphere for present and future generations. Learn more about the recent North Carolina petition filed by three teenagers, including two ACE Action Fellows, in November.

SAN FRANCISCO – On Monday, the historic youth climate lawsuit inched ever closer to what many are calling the “trial of the century.” With 18 of the 21 youth plaintiffs in attendance and hundreds of supporters spilling into an overflow courtroom, the case came before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where attorneys on both sides argued the merits of the case and whether it should proceed to trial or be dismissed.

“This is this generation’s Brown v. Board."

                        —Julia Olson, lead attorney for the Plaintiffs

Two years ago, 21 young people from across the country filed a lawsuit against the federal government for putting their life, liberty and property at risk by ignoring the threat of climate change while actively promoting fossil fuel extraction. These courageous young people are calling for the federal government to create a comprehensive climate recovery plan and to transition to renewable energy.

Plaintiff and ACE Action Fellow alum, Victoria Barrett, of White Planes, New York, addressed a crowd gathered outside of the courthouse.

In an attempt to prevent the case from reaching trial, the Trump administration petitioned the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss the case. “This case is simply too big,” Eric Grant, the attorney representing the Trump Administration and the U.S. Government pleaded. He argued that because most of the executive branch, including President Trump, are listed as defendants, preparing for the case would create an excessive burden and distract the Trump Administration from its Constitutional duties. The three-judge panel did not appear to be persuaded by this argument.

Lead attorney for the Plaintiffs, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, argued that the courts have dealt with similarly complex issues, like desegregating schools in Brown v. Board (1954), and this case is no different. She reminded the court why the Plaintiffs brought this suit collectively as a group of young people. “Children are disproportionately harmed by climate change,” Olson told the three-judge panel. She continued that it will be young people that will see the worst impacts of climate change.

Plaintiff and youth climate activist, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, of Boulder, CO, addresses a crown outside the courthouse in San Francisco.

The case faces two potential paths: it will either be dismissed or remanded back to the US District Court in Eugene, Oregon, where it will proceed on the path to trial. The fate of the case lies with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. This case is the first constitutional climate case to move this far in the courts. At a rally outside of the courthouse, Olsen put the case in perspective. “The government has, for decades, caused systemic infringmnet of young people's rights [and] systemic discrimination. This is this generation’s Brown v. Board,” she said to a cheering crowd.



Josh Walker

Josh is the Associate Director of Marketing and Technology at ACE. Josh has experience as an environmental educator and community organizer. He is a locavore and tiny house enthusiast. He lives in Sebastopol, CA with his wife, Anna, and their kale-loving dog, Otto.