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Federal court axes pivotal lawsuit with massive implications for the youth vote: 'It is not over'

"This is a tragic and unjust ruling."

"This is a tragic and unjust ruling."

Photo Credit: iStock

For the second time, a U.S. appeals court dismissed a landmark climate case that was filed by 21 young people in 2015, which could impact the youth vote in the upcoming election.

What's happening?

In early May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ordered a lower court judge to dismiss the Juliana v. United States case following the Biden administration's request, as Inside Climate News reported.

A group of young people between the ages of 8 and 19 alleged that the federal government's support of and investment in the oil and gas industries violate their constitutional rights to a safe, healthy environment since these industries are directly causing the overheating of our planet. 

The plaintiffs presented their case in Oregon to a district court judge, who allowed them to file a new version of the lawsuit after the appeals court dismissed it in 2020. 

According to Politico, the court "reluctantly" axed the case "because the courts cannot order the federal government to take sweeping, generalized action on greenhouse gas emissions."

Following the ruling, the children revised the complaint and simply requested a declaratory judgment that the U.S. government had violated their rights.

However, this time, three judges from the 9th Circuit ruled that "neither the mandate's letter nor its spirit left room for amendment," as the outlet reported

"This is a tragic and unjust ruling, but it is not over," Julia Olson, attorney and founder of Our Children's Trust, the nonprofit law firm that represented the youth plaintiffs in the case, told Inside Climate News. "President Biden can still make this right by coming to the settlement table."

Why does the dismissal of this case matter?

Striking down the Juliana case could hurt President Joe Biden's chances of getting reelected, as many young voters were already dissatisfied with the administration's climate policies, as detailed by Inside Climate News, even though ICN noted that the Biden administration has made "the largest-ever investment in clean energy and climate action" despite Republican opposition. 

That has happened largely through policies such as the Inflation Reduction Act and its many incentives for Americans to buy greener appliances and cars as well as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and its focus on decarbonizing transportation, among other policy enactments focused on the environment, which the White House summarized on Earth Day.  

We need every tool in our toolbox to stave off the worst effects of our warming world, and missing an opportunity to hold industries accountable is only prolonging the harm to people, animals, and the environment.

While climate lawsuits are on the rise across the world, it's not necessarily making a difference in climate governance in the U.S., per Inside Climate News

Even though clean energy is coming online rapidly, court rulings that require the government to enforce limits on companies' pollution would offer more support in the fight against rising temperatures and extreme weather

What's being done about climate lawsuits?

According to Reuters, the youth plaintiffs are not going down without a fight. They're considering asking the court to rehear their complaint in front of a larger group of judges. 

And even though this climate case has hit several roadblocks, others have been successful, including a historic one in Montana, where a judge last year ruled in favor of young activists who sued the state over failing to protect them from the dangerous impacts of oil and gas. 

A group of women in Switzerland also recently won a major human rights suit against their government, and several young people in Alaska have sued the state after it approved a giant gas export project.

One of the best things individuals can do is get more involved in climate action — especially to vote for candidates at the local, state, and national levels who understand the severity of the warming climate and are willing to take action. 

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