Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Climate change case blocked — for now

October 22, 2018 by Lyle Denniston


Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., on Friday evening ordered at least a temporary halt in a children’s lawsuit seeking to hold the federal government legally to blame for climate change in the form of global warming, severe storms, and worsening wildfires.  The proceedings in a federal trial court are thus on hold at least for the time being.

This does not necessarily mean that Roberts or the full Supreme Court will shut down that lawsuit, as the Trump Administration has asked.  The order serves only as a temporary pause in the pending case in a federal trial court in Eugene, Ore.

The Chief Justice called for a response from the children’s lawyers, and that is due next Wednesday afternoon.  Until that point, U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken — the trial judge — and the lawyers involved are not allowed to do anything further to exchange pre-trial information (the “discovery” process) or to prepare further for a trial that has been set to begin on October 29.

The new order was issued by Roberts in the temporary capacity as “Circuit Justice,” handling emergency legal filings from the federal Ninth Circuit, a geographic region that includes Oregon.  This order simply marks a stopping point until the Trump Administration’s request for a complete end to the pending case is answered by the other side.   Before Roberts or the Court would take further action, the Administration will have a chance to reply to what the other side says on Wednesday.

At the center of the case, filed more than three years ago on behalf of 21 children, is their claim that they have a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life” and that the federal government must be ordered to take steps to bring that about, primarily by taking further action to reduce so-called greenhouse gases that heat up the planet.


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