Lawyers for the Trump Administration plan to ask the Supreme Court on Wednesday to halt a trial set to begin in two weeks of a massive lawsuit against government environmental policy stretching back decades.
The case, Juliana v. U.S., seeks to establish a constitutional right to “a climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The lawsuit, filed by lawyers for 21 children or teenagers, is asking a federal judge in Oregon to order the government to come up with a plan to reduce greenhouse gases to try to stave off more global warming and more severe weather and wildfires.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken of Eugene cleared the way for the trial of the case to begin on Monday, October 29. In response, the Trump Administration later on Monday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to order a postponement of “all proceedings” in the Oregon court to give the Supreme Court time to act on the appeal that government lawyers plan to file promptly.
Last week, in another filing in the Ninth Circuit Court, the Administration said it would take its case to the Supreme Court by this Wednesday. It chose that date, the filing said, “to give the Supreme Court ample time” to consider the coming appeal “before the October 29 trial date.”
Judge Aiken refused to delay the start of the trial, which is set to begin more than three years after the youths’ lawsuit was filed in the summer of 2015.
Government lawyers have said in their lower court filings that they will ask the Supreme Court to take one of two kinds of action: a “mandamus” order that would compel Judge Aiken to delay the trial, or a grant of review of a government plea to dismiss the case outright.
Among the arguments the federal lawyers will be making is that Judge Aiken’s rulings permitting the trial amount to a flat violation of the Constitution’s separation of government powers, attempting to resolve broad questions of energy and environmental policy through the courts rather than through regular action by government agencies and Congress.
Judge Aiken has rejected that separation-of-powers argument, finding that the courts are the proper place to decide a fundamental constitutional question about whether the government has been endangering human life on the planet by polices that stretch back over decades.
If the Ninth Circuit Court does not act swiftly on the government request for a temporary halt to the trial, Administration lawyers probably will ask the Supreme Court to do that quickly, while it decides what action it will take, if any.
Last July, the Supreme Court turned down an earlier request by the Trump Administration to delay Judge Aiken’s actions, saying that request was “premature.” But the Justices’ order did urge the judge to rule promptly on the Administration’s formal demands that the case be thrown out without a trial.
Those demands were rejected by the judge in Eugene in her ruling on Monday, setting the stage for the Administration to move rapidly to seek help from higher courts.