Update: Landmark Climate Change Lawsuit

The 21 young people who brought a climate change lawsuit against the federal government are fighting harder than ever in the Trump era.

Trump a new defendant

The plaintiffs in the case, formally known as Juliana v United States, claim that the US government has violated their constitutional rights to life and liberty by failing to act on climate change in a timely manner. Last month, the kids won a stepping-stone victory when the Department of Justice acknowledged in a statement that the charges were well-founded. That was one week before the Obama administration left office.

While the Department of Justice under Obama seemed responsive to the case, the youth plaintiffs will certainly have a tougher fight under Trump. They seem up the challenge, though. On February 9 the case was updated to replace Obama with Donald Trump as a defendant. Plaintiff Aji Piper, age 16, said that she hopes the case “will reverse or prevent all damage our current president may inflict.”

Preserving government websites

Before naming Trump as a defendant, the kids and their lawyers were already taking on the new administration. In January, just after Trump took office, they filed a notice, addressed to both the federal government and fossil fuel industries, that would make it harder for the Trump administration to remove information about climate change and climate research from government websites.

The notice could mean that taking down websites would constitute hiding or destroying evidence. Destruction of evidence is illegal, and doing so would cost the federal government heavy penalties when the case is litigated later this year. It could even halt litigation if a judge decides that the defense destroyed evidence that would have hurt its own case.

The children and young people involved in this case have already set several landmark precedents in the emerging field of climate change law. Preventing the Trump administration from scrubbing government websites of climate research would be another serious victory for the kids, for the scientific community, and for environmental activists. Though it’s not guaranteed that the Trump administration will comply with the notice, it seems clear that they will face serious consequences in court if they choose to ignore it.

Read our initial coverage of the case here. And find more about updates to the case here and here.