Juliana v. the US, the Climate Case of the Century: When Reality Bites

Joel B. Stronberg
5 min readJul 29, 2021
Courtesy of Sara Larious and Unsplash

In her argument, Olson said she knows of no other instance where people suffering personal injury

at the hands of their government are told to go to the polls when a constitutional right is being violated.

The 21 young plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States will mark their six-year anniversary just days from now. They first petitioned the federal District Court for the District of Oregon on August 12, 2015.

Over the past six years, the Juliana plaintiffs have grown in age, under-standing, and stature. The lead plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, is now 25 years old; Levi Draheim, the youngest, is 14.

Individually and as a group, they’ve now had first-hand experience — perhaps to their chagrin — of the ways of Washington and the federal court system. For the past six years, the case has moved from the trial court to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, onto the US Supreme Court, and back again to the trial court.

The latest effort of the plaintiffs’ attorneys is to get the case back on active status. The recent oral argument to amend their pleadings serves as the jumping-on point of this article. Stay with me a moment as I try to explain Juliana’s latest moves.

The question that keeps coming back to the court like a bad check is whether the plaintiffs have the right to stand before a judge to plead their case. Six years on, and the question of standing has yet to be definitively answered.

On March 9, 2021, attorneys for the youth plaintiffs filed a motion to amend their original complaint against the federal government and adjust the rem-edy sought. The proposed amendment was prompted by the latest 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case. (For a complete timeline on the case, click here.)

The Appellate Court held the plaintiffs suffered actual injuries, and the government’s action contributed to those injuries. However, the Court also ruled that it lacked the authority to order the federal government to remediate the injuries.

To be granted standing, a petitioner must answer three questions in the affirmative:

  • Have they suffered a concrete harm?

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Joel B. Stronberg

Stronberg is a thought leader in the climate community with over 40 years of experience covering environmental and sustainability issues as a freelancer.