UPDATE: On Friday, October 19, Chief Justice John Roberts put discovery and the trial on hold until the plaintiffs respond to the government’s request and the justices can rule on that request. The plaintiffs’ response is due on Wednesday, October 24, at 3 p.m.
In July, the Supreme Court declined to intervene in a lawsuit filed by a group of 21 children and teenagers who allege that they have a constitutional right to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The justices rejected the federal government’s request to block discovery and a trial until the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit could rule on the government’s petition seeking to have the case dismissed or, at a minimum, to block discovery and the trial temporarily. Today the Trump administration returned to the Supreme Court, asking it once again to put discovery and the trial – now scheduled for the end of October – on hold.
The case was originally filed in 2015 against the Obama administration. The plaintiffs argue that the federal government’s actions are causing a “dangerous climate system,” and they have asked a federal district court in Oregon to order various federal agencies to prepare and implement a remedial plan to phase out fossil-fuel emissions.
When the government asked the justices to step in over the summer, they rejected the request, which they described as “premature.” But the justices also seemed to express some skepticism about the “breadth” of the plaintiffs’ claims, calling them “striking” and observing that there are “substantial grounds for difference of opinion” on whether those claims belong in court at all. The justices instructed the district court to “take these concerns into account in assessing the burdens of discovery and trial, as well as the desirability of a prompt ruling on the” federal government’s other pending motions, which could result in dismissal of some or all of the plaintiffs’ claims.
The government is now back at the court, telling the justices that earlier this week the district court “declined to meaningfully narrow” the plaintiffs’ claims, instead rejecting various government motions that would have ended the case. The government is now asking the court to order the district court to “end this profoundly misguided suit” or, at the very least, review the district court’s rulings allowing the case to go forward; moreover, the government again urges, the Supreme Court should put discovery and the trial on hold while it considers these requests. There would be no real harm to the plaintiffs from doing so, the government stresses, because the plaintiffs are claiming that they have been harmed by the cumulative effects of carbon dioxide emissions over several decades.
The government’s request, signed by U.S. solicitor general Noel Francisco, goes to Chief Justice John Roberts, who currently serves as the circuit justice for the 9th Circuit. Roberts can act on the government’s application immediately or refer it to the full court.
This post was also published on SCOTUSblog.