The U.S. Supreme Court has temporarily stopped a landmark climate change lawsuit filed by young Americans against the Trump administration from moving forward. The move comes one week before trial was set to begin in district court.
Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay in the legal proceedings Friday, following a request from the Trump administration. The government said in its application for the stay that the lawsuit, which holds the federal government responsible for not doing more to protect the youth plaintiffs against climate change, is “an attempt to redirect federal environmental and energy policies through the courts rather than through the political process, by asserting a new and unsupported fundamental due process right to certain climate conditions.”
The stay will put the case on hold pending a response from the plaintiffs defending why the case should move forward. The response is due in court by Wednesday afternoon. The climate trial was set to begin Oct. 29 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.
The federal lawsuit is being brought by 21 children and young adults from across the country, who are backed by organizations Our Children’s Trust and Earth Guardians. The plaintiffs allege that the federal government’s actions to exacerbate climate change have “violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources,” Our Children’s Trust wrote in an explanation of the case.
“The present level of CO2 and its warming, both realized and latent, are already in the zone of danger,” according to the lawsuit. “Defendants have acted with deliberate indifference to the peril they knowingly created.”
The federal lawsuit was first filed in 2015 under the Obama administration, and is now being defended by the Trump administration. In addition to the federal challenge, Our Children’s Trust has also backed youth climate change lawsuits at the state level across the country; cases are currently pending in nine states.
The Trump administration has made multiple previous attempts to get the case dismissed, including a prior request to the Supreme Court in July. In his last act on the Supreme Court bench, Justice Anthony Kennedy denied that motion, ruling that the government’s request to halt the case was “premature.”
Kennedy has since been replaced on the court by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who is viewed to be more conservative than Kennedy, whose record was more often moderate.
“The latest attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop the trial does not appear to be based on any new evidence or arguments,” Vermont Law School professor Melissa Scanlan told the Associated Press. “The only new element is an additional Supreme Court justice.”
Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, however, the plaintiffs remain confident the case will move forward.
“We are confident once Chief Justice Roberts and the full court receive the youth plaintiffs’ response to defendants’ mischaracterization of their case, the trial will proceed,” Julia Olson, the executive director of Our Children’s Trust and co-lead counsel in the case, said in a statement.
“As the Supreme Court has recognized in innumerable cases, review of constitutional questions is better done on a full record where the evidence is presented and weighed by the trier of fact,” Olson continued. “This case is about already recognized fundamental rights and children’s rights of equal protection under the law.”