Juliana v. United States is a historic climate change lawsuit seeking to establish a constitutional right to a livable planet. But the Biden administration has indicated it will fight tooth and nail to prevent the lawsuit from ever getting a trial.
Any day now, a federal circuit court is expected to deliver a ruling that would allow a historic climate change lawsuit to proceed to trial.
If and when the case moves forward, however, it faces a major obstacle: President Joe Biden’s Justice Department.
The lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, was brought by twenty-one young plaintiffs in 2015 and seeks to establish a federal, constitutional right to a livable planet. If the case is successful, any federal policies that enable more fossil fuel development could be challenged as unconstitutional.
But the Obama and Trump administrations both vehemently fought the lawsuit, and now those close to the case say that Biden’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has indicated it will also use every procedural tool at its disposal to prevent the lawsuit from ever getting a trial.
“I have asked [them] very directly, if we win this motion, and we can move forward with the case, do you intend to go to trial?” Julia Olson, the lead plaintiff’s lawyer, told us. “Their response has always been something along the lines of, ‘It is our position that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction and that this case should never go to trial.’”
Juliana v. United States was ambitious from the start. The plaintiffs are asking a federal court system, stacked with right-wing judges backed by the fossil fuel industry, to enshrine a constitutional right to a livable climate. But the plaintiffs point to what they’ve pulled off thus far as evidence it’s achievable.
For example, Oregon district court judge Ann Aiken wrote in a procedural ruling on the case in 2016, “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” That was the first time a federal US judge declared that such a constitutional right existed.