Should kids be able to sue for a safe climate? A federal magistrate judge just said yes.
Last month, in Eugene, Ore., 21 youth plaintiffs argued why their case should proceed to trial. The kids allege that by failing to act on climate change, the U.S. government — including the president and a handful of federal agencies — have violated several of their constitutional rights. As we reported in March:
The complaint alleges violation of the kids’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection. By failing to act on climate change, it argues, the government discriminates against youth as a class. Without access to a healthy climate, they’re deprived of their fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property.
The complaint is also built on the public trust doctrine, a carryover from English common law that says a government has the duty to protect certain natural resources and systems on behalf of current and future generations. “It originated with Emperor Justinian in Rome,” Alex Loznak, a 19-year-old plaintiff, explained to the press. “It’s reflected in the Magna Carta, the writings of Thomas Jefferson, and cited in U.S. court decisions dating back to the 1800s.”
Backed by a slew of fossil fuel interests, the Justice Department filed a motion arguing for the case’s dismissal. Now, with the magistrate’s recommendations in hand, the 21 plaintiffs will cross their fingers that a district judge will let them head to federal court for a proper hearing.
Said lead attorney Philip Gregory in a statement, “This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history.” If the kids win in the big leagues, that might actually be true.
Update: Clarified roles of magistrate and district judges. The author has been sentenced to three years in law school.