Those Kids Suing for Climate Action Might Soon Get Their Day in Court

The youth plaintiffs stand before a courthouse in Denver February 20, 2017. All Photos: Christian ORourke / Flickr
The youth plaintiffs stand before a courthouse in Denver February 20, 2017. All Photos: Christian ORourke / Flickr

A group of kids, ages 10 to 21, are threatening the Trump administration’s environmental agenda (or, rather, its lack of one) through a federal lawsuit. The Department of Justice doesn’t think this case should move forward, but it appears the courts disagree.


The two parties—21 youth plaintiffs and the Department of Justice—stood before a three-judge Appeals Court panel Monday in San Francisco to argue about whether the case should go to trial. There, Justice Department attorney Eric Grant said this suit is “unprecedented” and “clearly meritless.”

At least two of the three judges didn’t seem to be having it.

“If we granted the motion here, why don’t we grant it to the next person who comes in and says the same thing?” asked Judge Marsha Berzon, during the hearing. Chief Judge Sidney R. Thomas, agreed, immediately noting, “If that were true, we’d be absolutely flooded with appeals by people who think their case should have been dismissed by the district court.”

Now, this position doesn’t necessarily mean the judges agree with the plaintiffs’ argument. All they’re saying it it’s too early for the case to be in an appeals stage. They still have to make their official decision, and InsideClimate News reports they’ll likely let the case move on through the district court to trial, which was initially scheduled for February 5, 2018.

At that point both parties will be able to actually defend their arguments instead of whether the case has standing. The Trump administration has been trying to sweep away this lawsuit as quickly as possible.

In March, the administration sought an appeal on a judge’s November decision to send the case to trial. Trump’s people even went ahead and tried to rush the courts into making a decision by May. When that didn’t happen, the Justice Department demanded a decision by June.

U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken eventually said “Nah” and denied the department’s request. That’s why it filed this formal petition that landed it in front of the three-judge panel Monday. Once the panel makes its decision, the president doesn’t have many options left; he’ll have to contest these kids in court.


This suit isn’t new, though. The youth plaintiffs have been suing the federal government since 2015 with a simple argument: The federal government is denying them of their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property.

You see, these 21 youth plaintiffs, with the help of advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, are arguing that the federal government knew—for more than 50 years—how fossil fuels cause climate change. Federal policy and enforcement, however, aren’t indicative of this awareness. So these so-called “climate kids” are calling on the courts to order the federal government to develop an effective plan to save the planet and their futures in the case, which is called Juliana et al v. the United States.


Now that Trump is making clear attempts to roll back laws meant to mitigate or prevent climate change, they might have a better shot at winning.

Similar lawsuits on the state level have seen some success in the past: In 2016, a judge ruled that Massachusetts had to better regulate its greenhouse gas emissions. This was after four kids (also with Our Children’s Trust) sued their state government.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the youth plaintiffs.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, one of the youth plaintiffs.

And the ones involved with the federal lawsuit? They each have something to lose. For Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, an indigenous 17-year-old artist, the Earth holds spiritual and sacred meaning. Climate change threatens his cultural practices. For 12-year-old Sahara Valentine, global warming is helping increase the number of wildfires in her state of Oregon. She has asthma, so her health is at risk as the planet warms.


Their stories are a reminder of how climate change impacts us all individually.

Yessenia Funes is climate editor at Atmos Magazine. She loves Earther forever.


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Suing the government may become problematic in future since we’re witnessing a complete destruction of government by industry, finance and extreme wealth individuals. Republicans are pretty much destroying governmental agency with the tax plan. The Pew Charitable Trusts were started by oil money from Sun Oil Company. They’ve set the agenda for many environmental nonprofits and NGOs to focus lawsuits relating to environmental degradation on governments rather than the potentially responsible parties from the private sector.

There will be a point where the government won’t have any money and agency to do shit about the problem. These kids probably won’t have things like social security and medicare to worry about regardless of future impacts due to climate change. And who knows, maybe some of these kids will grow up and become libertarians. Kids do the darndest things. I’m not holding out hope for this court case to unfuck anything.