Juliana v. the United States: Do Youth Have a Right to Their Future?


Photo by Lucia Garay

The federal Courthouse of Eugene, Ore.

Lucia Garay, Page Editor, Copy Editor

On Monday, Oct. 29, 21 youth and the thousands supporting them lined up outside of the federal courthouse to speak, sing, protest, and stand together. The same emotions could be seen on every face: anger, disappointment, sorrow, determination, and hope. They were all there for the same reason, to protest the federal government’s refusal to meet the 21 American youth who were trying to sue in court.

Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit organization which, according to their website, “elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations.”

The Trust selected 21 youth who had been affected by radical changes to the environment to pursue a class action lawsuit against the federal government for, “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.” Often called the trial of the century, the lawsuit, named Juliana v. U.S. Government after the first plaintiff to file a grievance, has the possibility of being as constitutionally important as Roe v. Wade, Brown v. the Board of Education, or Tinker v. Des Moines.

The youngest plaintiff, Levi D. [last name omitted due to underaged status] of Satellite Beach, Florida, was only seven when he first partook in suing the government in 2015. Now, at 11 years old, Levi’s fellow plaintiffs and the adult counsels of Our Children’s Trust describe his conviction and dedication to the cause as beyond his years.

For three years each of the plaintiffs, who are aged 11 to 22 and hail from Alaska to Hawaii, have struggled alongside the adult counsels to bring the lawsuit to the federal courts. The lawsuit was finally scheduled to take place at the Federal Courthouse of Eugene, Oregon on Monday, Oct. 29. Less than a week before the scheduled opening statement, the Trump administration filed a stay, meaning that after three years of work, the plaintiffs and counsel could not even set foot in the courtroom on the appointed day. Many speculate that the Trump administration intends to postpone the hearing until Justice Brett Kavanaugh is fully confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite the disappointing turn of events the plaintiffs and their supporters travelled to Eugene, Ore. on Oct. 29 in order to show their solidarity and protest the stay. The plaintiffs in addition to Our Children’s Trust were joined by the national environmental activist organization 350.org, several religious congregations including the Santa Rosa Unitarian Universalist Congregation, the students of South Eugene High School, many other similar groups, and a mass of individual supporters. From 8 a.m. to noon, thousands stood outside the lifeless courthouse in pouring Oregon rain and October chill. Incredibly, the overall atmosphere of the event was one of hope and perseverance. There was music, laughter, boisterous banjo-punk performances by plaintiff Kiran Oommen, poetry reading, heartfelt sermons by a diverse group of religious leaders, and talk of determined action moving ahead, despite what adversity has faced or will face the movement.

“[In order to stay hopeful] I just kind of remember how many people are supporting us and after thinking about that it lifts me up a little bit or a lot,” said plaintiff Avery M., 13 years old, about keeping hope in the face of adversity. “I feel like that’s probably one of the main ways… remembering how many people are supporting us, because it is hard to keep hope when something like this happens.”

“Just being here and seeing the community come together and being here with the plaintiffs and our friends and knowing that we will get through this [gives me hope]… We will have a trial date and we will see them in court,” said plaintiff Hazel V., fourteen. “We have supporters from almost every state….My family is a very big reason why I still do this because they’re very supportive,” said plaintiff Jayden F., fifteen. “There have been times–because I live in Louisiana and its very supportive–that sometimes I have thoughts that I should leave [the lawsuit], but my family is very good and supportive and if I ever feel bad, I just go see my elders and talk to my friends.”

The federal government has attempted to postpone or outright deny the lawsuit, first claiming that the various plights of the young plaintiffs brought forward as evidence have no scientific proof of being the result of human misuse of the environment and later arguing that the children do not have the constitutional right to an environment free of climate change. Despite their attempts, the Supreme Court has lifted the stay and will allow the hearing to proceed, for now.

The exact date of the opening statements and beginning of the court case are pending. For now, the counsels prepare themselves to face off against the U.S. Federal Government in court as the plaintiffs return to their home states, school, college, friends, and the holidays, anxiously awaiting their day in court and a future free from the threat of climate change.

Photo by Lucia GarayPhoto by Lucia GarayPhoto by Lucia Garay