Climate case: Our justice system is broken
“In the matter of the plaintiff versus the defendant, the court finds as fact that plaintiffs have suffered injury, finding further that this injury is due, in part, to actions by the defendant. The court finds, however, that the satisfaction sought by the plaintiffs, to have the defendant quit contributing to the problem causing injury, is beyond the ability of the court. Plaintiffs must address the defendant’s higher authorities to implement change.”
Thus, in Juliana vs. the United States, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that climate change is significant, that it has harmed the plaintiffs, and that the United States, through its support and subsidies of fossil fuels, has contributed directly to the problem. But then, in a clear departure from our system of checks and balances, the court says the plaintiffs must take their request for remedies directly to the president, Congress or the electorate.
The plaintiffs are children. They have come forward, challenging their government to provide their constitutionally protected right to a healthy environment. They made their case in the courts and the courts found their claims to be real and substantial and that the United States government is at least partially responsible for a global problem. They found that the U.S. government has, through its rules, policies and administration of governmental functions, continued to contribute to the problem. Plaintiffs asked that the courts direct the government to change such rules, policies and functions to quit contributing to the problem.
The court, that branch of government meant to keep the other branches, Congress and the president, from inflicting damage on the citizens, said that such remedies are not their job, but should be “entrusted to the wisdom and discretion of the executive and legislative branches.” They have abdicated their responsibilities in our system of checks and balances. They have put a spotlight on a major dysfunction in our judicial system, shown that people who are being injured have no means of stopping what is injuring them.
The plaintiffs could take the issue to the electorate. That’s you and me and a whole lot of other folks. The facts have been decided, so what do these children ask of us?
Say that you, the plaintiff, have come to court to present damages as a result of defendant’s action. Say the action was installing a fence on your property, a fence beneficial to the defendant, but damaging to you. Say the court agrees that you are being damaged and that the defendant has caused the damage. And then, say the court says you must seek compensation from the defendant directly because the court is not qualified in matters of fence building. Would you say our justice system has failed?
Our children are asking us no less than to stop adding to the problem. Quit building the fence. The legally and scientifically established cause of the problem is clear. These children are not asking us to solve the problem. They only ask that we stop adding to it. That is the bottom line in what is asked in Julianna vs. United States, that our country quit providing aid and comfort to the enemy, the pollution killing our planet.
The court was not asked to determine how much impact such actions might have, but that influenced their decision. Their judgment was that the burden of proof for cause and effect had been met. But then, like Pontius Pilate, they washed their hands.
Jack Duggan lives in the Applegate.