Trump administration takes a 'drastic' step to stop youth climate lawsuit

Trump administration takes a 'drastic' step to stop youth climate lawsuit
Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration in front of the White House in Washington, DC on June 1, 2017, objecting to US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate accord.
PHOTO: AFP

The Trump administration is ramping up efforts to quash a climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young people.

Trump's legal team on Friday took an unusual step that shows just how determined the Justice Department is to keep Juliana v. United States from going to trial.

Lawyers filed a "writ of mandamus" petition with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review a federal judge's decision from November, which denied the government's motion to dismiss the precedent-setting lawsuit.

A mandamus is considered a "drastic and extraordinary" remedy reserved for "really extraordinary causes," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court's 2004 majority opinion Cheney v. US The administration essentially wants to leapfrog over a lower court in hopes of finding a more favourable ruling in a higher court.

Steam and exhaust rise from a power station in Germany. PHOTO: Lukas Schulze 

The youth lawsuit uses a novel legal approach that's also being tested in India, the Netherlands, and other countries around the world.

Juliana v. United States relies on a version of the public trust doctrine, which holds that the government is responsible for preserving certain natural resources for public use.

In this instance, the resource is the country's "life-sustaining climate system," including the "atmosphere, waters, oceans, and biosphere."

"The US government is running from some of its youngest constituents, and all we're asking for is a plan to preserve our future," Victoria Barrett, an 18-year-old plaintiff from White Plains, New York, said in a statement provided by Our Children's Trust, the organisation behind the lawsuit.

To understand why the Trump administration is going to such lengths, let's review some recent history.

In 2015, a group of citizens, now ages 9 to 21, filed a lawsuit accusing the federal government and energy companies of failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and curb fossil fuel use, despite mounting evidence on human-caused global warming.

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