Alex Baumhardt

(Oregon Capital Chronicle) More than three dozen Congressional Democrats, led by Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, are hoping to help revive a landmark lawsuit against the U.S. government by 21 young Americans – including 11 Oregonians – over continued federal support for fossil fuel production and a failure to urgently mitigate the worst effects of climate change, violating the plaintiffs’ right to a livable environment.

The case, Juliana v. United States, was first filed in the U.S. District Court in Eugene nearly 10 years ago. At the time, the youth behind the suit were between eight- and 18-years old. It has not gone to trial following pressure from three presidential administrations, which asked the court multiple times to have the case dismissed.

The intervention from lawmakers follows other briefs in support of a rehearing submitted in June by several law professors and more than a dozen international climate rights experts. The case is the longest running such suit. Young people have also sued state governments in Montana and Hawaii for violating state constitutional rights to safe and livable environments – and they won.

In the Juliana suit, fossil fuel companies, the U.S. Department of Justice, former President Donald Trump and Republican states attorneys general have filed court documents against the case. It was deemed effectively dead in May, when three Trump-appointed judges on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sided with the U.S. Department of Justice in ordering the case to be dismissed.

In response, the attorney for the youth behind the case, Julia Olson, filed a request June 17 for a rehearing by the Ninth Circuit. On Friday, Wyden and U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, filed an “amicus brief” or “friend of the court brief” urging the court to grant it. It was signed by 39 other Congressional Democrats, including Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley and Oregon Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Val Hoyle.

“The climate crisis poses a clear and present danger,” Wyden said in an emailed statement. “These young leaders – more than half of whom are from Oregon – have long been working to spotlight that deadly impact and the urgent need for action. I share their concerns and am proud to work with them to achieve the day in court that they deserve to make their case.”

If the majority of the 29 judges on the Ninth Circuit agree the case can be reheard, 11 of them will listen to the arguments from both sides and issue a new decision about a trial. If they again deny a trial, the 21 plaintiffs could petition the U.S. Supreme Court as a last resort.

“These youth plaintiffs are among the youngest generation and most vulnerable citizens of our country,” the lawmakers wrote in the brief. “Since youth cannot vote, they depend upon each branch of government to act in their best interests when exercising authority. Sadly, at this time, each branch is betraying the intergenerational trust bestowed upon them for ‘our Posterity’ in the face of the climate crisis.”

Olson argued that the three-judge panel in May wrongly denied oral arguments by the plaintiffs and acted incorrectly in ordering an immediate dismissal of the case rather than issuing an opinion, effectively denying the plaintiffs their right to an appeal.

“The court’s obscure legal tactics prevent young people from accessing justice,” she said in a news release. “Not only is this an injustice to the 21 young people who have fought for nearly 10 years, but the court’s order cheapens the integrity of the judicial process.”