Generation Z environmentalists fail to convince the government to even plead their case on the constitutional right to a life-sustaining climate

A federal appeals court panel on Wednesday dismissed a long-running lawsuit brought by young Oregon climate activists who argued that the U.S. government’s role in climate change violates their constitutional rights.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously ordered the case dismissed in 2020, saying the job of setting the nation’s climate policy should fall to politicians, not judges. But U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, instead allowed the activists to amend their lawsuit, ruling last year that the case could go to trial.

At the request of the Biden administration, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit issued an order Wednesday requiring Aiken to dismiss the case, which she did. Julia Olson, an attorney at Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit law firm representing the activists, said they are considering asking the 9th Circuit to rehear the case with a larger group of judges.

“I have been advocating for my government to hear our case since I was 10, and I am now almost 19,” one of the activists, Avery McRae, said in a news release from the law firm. “A functioning democracy would not let a child plead for protection of his rights in court, only to be ignored almost a decade later. I am fed up with the continued attempts to suppress this cause and silence our voices.”

The case – called Juliana v. United States, after one of the plaintiffs, Kelsey Juliana – has been closely watched since it was filed in 2015. The 21 plaintiffs, who were between 8 and 18 years old at the time, said they have a constitutional right to an environment that supports life. The U.S. government’s actions encouraging a fossil fuel economy despite scientific warnings about global warming are unconstitutional, they argued.

The lawsuit was repeatedly challenged by the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations, whose lawyers argued that the lawsuit aimed to direct federal environmental and energy policy through the courts rather than the political process. At one point in 2018, a trial was halted by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts just days before it was set to begin.

Another climate lawsuit brought by young people was successful: Early this year, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a landmark decision requiring regulators to consider the effects of greenhouse gas emissions before issuing permits for fossil fuel development.

That case was also brought by Our Children’s Trust, which has filed climate lawsuits on behalf of young plaintiffs in every state since 2010.