Jan 17, 2020

Appeals court tosses high-profile youth climate lawsuit

Protesters attend a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court held by the group Our Children’s Trust October 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

A federal appeals court on Friday threw out a lawsuit brought by 21 young people intended to force the U.S. government to act more aggressively to confront climate change.

Why it matters: The case, first brought in 2015, has been among the higher-profile pieces of climate litigation and underscores the challenges of using the court system to tackle global warming.

What they're saying: The 2-1 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is highly sympathetic to the plaintiffs' concerns, but concludes the remedy doesn't lie in the courtroom.

  • Judge Andrew Hurwitz, writing for the majority, said a "substantial evidentiary record" shows the government "has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change."
  • "We reluctantly conclude, however, that the plaintiffs’ case must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box."

The state of play: The lawsuit included claims that the government was violating the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to a "climate system capable of sustaining human life."

  • The case was seeking a court order to force the government to "phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess" carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
  • It was brought by the group Our Children's Trust on behalf of plaintiffs who were 19 years or younger when it was filed in 2015.

The big picture: As Axios noted in 2018, the case of Juliana v. United States has galvanized the climate movement around the country, particularly given the underdog aspect of having young people take on the government.

  • Michael B. Gerrard, head of a Columbia University climate law project, tells The New York Times that the decision is not a surprise.
  • “Many U.S. judges have vigorously enforced the environmental laws written by Congress but won’t go beyond that," he told the paper.

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Trump's selective urgency at the Supreme Court

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The Trump administration has consistently tried to get controversial cases in front of the Supreme Court as quickly as possible — but not when that might have meant striking down the entire Affordable Care Act before the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump’s Justice Department has tried to leapfrog the traditional process far more than its predecessors did, and at least one Supreme Court justice seems to be worried that it’s affecting the court’s work.

Go deeperArrowJan 23, 2020

The widening partisan divide on climate change

Reproduced from Pew Research Center U.S. Politics and Policy; Chart: Axios Visuals

The persistent partisan divide on climate change is getting wider, per a Pew Research Center survey.

The big picture: Since 2015, Democrats have become increasingly convinced (now at 78%) that climate change should be a top federal priority — while that same view among Republicans has remained relatively flat (now at 21%)

Go deeper: Climate change's surprise twist

Where top 2020 candidates stand on climate policy and the Green New Deal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a rally May 13. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Green New Deal resolution, introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has helped cement climate change as a real topic in the 2020 presidential race.

What's happening: More Democratic candidates have pitched climate change policy that goes beyond the Green New Deal, largely to prepare for events like CNN's "climate crisis" town hall. The GND — which is more of a call to arms than a strict policy proposal — outlines a 10-year mobilization plan to move the country toward a 100% carbon-free power system and a decarbonized economy.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy