On Thursday, April 12, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon set October 29, 2018, as the first day of trial in the landmark constitutional climate lawsuit brought by 21 American youth against the U.S. government. This development follows multiple rulings issued in favor of the youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States.
Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel of Our Children’s Trust and co-lead counsel for youth plaintiffs said:
We have our trial date. In the coming months there will be depositions of the parties, defendants’ disclosure of their experts, and expert depositions in late summer. We will build a full factual record for trial so that the Court can make the best informed decision in this crucial constitutional case.
Department of Justice attorneys representing the Trump administration told Judge Coffin that the trial date he set “won’t work” for defendants. They claimed they needed additional time to address expert witness reports and find rebuttal experts for every one of plaintiffs’ experts, to which Judge Coffin responded by asking:
Where am I missing something? Given your admissions in this case, what is it about the science that you intend to contest with your rebuttal witnesses?
The Court also made it clear that it will not be making any decisions on matters of law (aka summary judgments) before the trial, despite defendants’ intentions to the contrary.
Sophie Kivlehan, 19-year-old plaintiff from Allentown, Pennsylvania, and granddaughter of the famous climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, said:
It is a relief to see that the Court understands how imperative it is to get this trial underway as soon as possible, despite all of the delay tactics the U.S. government continues trying to use. I am so excited to have an official trial date on the calendar again so that we can finally bring our voices and our evidence into the courtroom!
Phil Gregory, of Gregory Law Group and co-lead counsel for the youth plaintiffs, commented:
By setting a trial date of October 29, 2018 the court clearly recognizes the urgency of the climate crisis. Further, the court stressed that the science should not be in dispute and that the case should be able to proceed in a streamlined fashion. On October 29th climate science will finally have its day in court and the plaintiffs will be ready.
Jaime Butler, 17-year-old plaintiff from Flagstaff, Arizona and a member of the Navajo Nation said:
I am happy that the court is taking us and our case seriously, even though we’re young people. I’m excited to go to trial where I can represent other kids like me, not just Navajos but all Native Americans. Indigenous people feel the effects of climate change but a lot of them don’t have good representation. By representing people like me, I hope all indigenous people feel more respected and heard. We should all have an equal say in how the future should be and how we take care of it.
On May 10, Nature’s Trust Rhode Island will host a Youth and Climate Justice Conference featuring Mary Christina Wood, a law professor at the University of Oregon and a one of the legal scholars instrumental in developing the framework at the basis of these court cases. In the introduction to her book, Nature’s Trust, Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, Wood quotes Oren Lyons, a member of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs and professor of American studies:
The thing that you have to understand about nature and natural law is, there’s no mercy…. There’s only law. And if you don’t understand that law and you don’t abide by that law, you will suffer the consequence. Whether you agree with it, understand it, comprehend it, it doesn’t make any difference. You’re going to suffer the consequence, and that’s right where we’re headed right now.
Full disclosure: Peter Nightingale is President of Nature’s Trust Rhode Island.