Taking the suggestion of the Supreme Court, the Trump Administration has moved in two lower federal courts in a new attempt to stop the trial of a major lawsuit claiming that the government has wrongly followed policies that have worsened the nation’s climate.
That trial, temporarily on hold while the trial judge and the lawyers involved ponder what to do next, would be of “staggering complexity,” government lawyers said in papers filed this week in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That is the court that the Supreme Court last week said the government should turn to as it continued to try to head off that trial about global warming.
Several documents were filed in the Ninth Circuit Court and in the federal trial court in Eugene, Ore., where the trial would be held, if it goes forward. But the main focus of all of the filings was the government’s desire to have that case dismissed without any further proceedings, and to have that done as soon as possible.
Twice, the Supreme Court has turned down Trump Administration requests to halt the trial, but it has also showed considerable skepticism that the case should be in court at all. It has assured the Administration that, if the lower courts do not deal with the government’s challenge, the Administration would be free to return to the Supreme Court for help.
The trial, before U.S. District Judge Ann L. Aiken of Eugene, had been scheduled to start ten days ago, but that schedule was interrupted when the Supreme Court took time to weigh the Administration’s second attempt to get the Justices to end the case altogether. That plea was refused by the Justices last Friday, with the suggestion to the government to seek help from the Ninth Circuit Court.
As of today, Judge Aiken plans to hold a telephone conference on Thursday with lawyers for the 21 children and youths who filed the broad lawsuit and lawyers for the federal government. In advance of that session, the government made these requests:
First, it asked Judge Aiken to put all of the proceedings on hold until the government could pursue an appeal of orders that she had issued, rejecting the federal lawyers’ pleas to end the case without a trial.
Second, it asked Judge Aiken to reconsider her recent ruling refusing to give the government permission to pursue a pre-trial appeal of her orders against the government’s challenges.
Third, in case the judge turned down those pleas by the government, it put a back-up request to the Ninth Circuit Court to act on its own to take one of two actions: dismiss the case without a trial, or else issue a direct order to Judge Aiken to allow the government to appeal her rulings that would allow the case to keep moving to and through a trial.
Finally, it urged the Ninth Circuit Court at least to temporarily halt the proceedings in Eugene until the government’s challenge is sorted.
It also indicated that it was keeping open the option of returning to the Supreme Court if it gets no relief in the lower courts.
The case has been unfolding in the Eugene court for more than three years, but was finally set for trial to begin on October 29. That did not happen because of the Supreme Court’s temporary involvement, but as of today, Judge Aiken is under no present order not to set a new trial date and go forward.
The Obama Administration had sought to block the lawsuit when it was in office, and the government’s resistance to the case was continued when the Trump Administration took office last year.
Judge Aiken has planned to hold a ten-week trial, with scores of witnesses to testify on how policies that encouraged the use of fossil fuels may have or did generate greenhouse gases, which are known to add to global warming. The ultimate aim of the lawsuit is to get a court order from Judge Aiken to compel the government to wind down all policies that foster the use of fossil fuels, with the aim of a significant reduction of greenhouse gases.
The constitutional theory that Judge Aiken has allowed the 21 children to advance in the case is that they have a constitutional right to a climate that is capable of sustaining human life. The Trump Administration argues that there is no such right, and that allowing the case to proceed to a trial would actually mean that a single federal trial court in Oregon had taken over the micro-management of virtually all federal energy and environmental policies.
The Administration has put forth a variety of arguments under the Constitution and under federal laws governing court procedure in its attempt to get the case dismissed. So far, Judge Aiken has rejected those arguments, at least temporarily, finding that the youths’ lawsuit has made significant enough claims at least to justify a full trial.