Plaintiffs Cite Supreme Court’s Abortion Decision as Support in Climate Change Lawsuit

On Tuesday, October 11, 2022, plaintiffs in Juliana et al. v. United States of America, a climate change lawsuit previously dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, cited the recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion rights as novel precedent to support the need to go to trial.

Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana and Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh M. were between the ages of 8 and 19 when they sued the U.S. government in 2015, alleging climate-change related injuries caused by the federal government’s “permit[ting], authoriz[ing], and subsidiz[ing] fossil fuel.” A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the lawsuit in 2020 because of issues with the redressability requirement. The panel ruled that the requested remedial declaratory and injunctive relief would not “alone solve global climate change.” Further, the panel held that an Article III court could not grant the specific relief sought since “any effective plan would necessarily require a host of complex policy decisions entrusted, for better or worse, to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.”

On remand, the plaintiffs filed a notice of supplemental authority with the U.S. District Court, District of Oregon. The notice cites the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., the abortion rights case overruling both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. At issue on remand is whether or not the plaintiffs’ proposed Second Amended Complaint is “futile.” The plaintiffs point to Dobbs to support “a ruling by this Court that one of the most vital roles of our federal judiciary is to evaluate and to declare. . . whether the rights Plaintiffs claim to be violated are constitutionally protected and what standard of review applies to a claimed infringement of those rights.” The filing also argues that Dobbs “provides a roadmap for this Court to analyze the alleged rights in this case and issue declaratory judgment.” Finally, the plaintiffs argue in the notice that Dobbs affirms other implicit liberty rights at issue in Juliana v. United States.

The notice cites Dobbs as precedential “because the issues presented by the proposed Second Amended Complaint involve fundamental constitutional rights, where the evidence will show such rights have substantial basis in the Constitution’s text and in our Nation’s history.” The plaintiffs argue that the government’s position that federal courts lack the authority to declare or deny fundamental rights is untenable in light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. The notice reinterprets the Dobbs decision to state: “[c]an any judge ‘really maintain’ that deciding whether children have rights to life and a stable climate system is ‘not justified until the country ha[s] experienced more than a half-century of state-sanctioned [climate destruction] and generations of [] children had suffered all its effects?'”

Additional Reading

Youth climate plaintiffs cite novel precedent: SCOTUS’s landmark abortion ruling, Reuters (October 12, 2022)

Juliana, et al v United States of America, et al (Case No. 6:2015cv01517)

Juliana v. United States, No. 18-36082 (9th Cir. 2020)

Plaintiffs’ Notice of Supplemental Authority in Juliana et al v. United States of America

Photo Credit: Christie Cooper /