‘This generation’s Brown vs. Board of Education’: Climate kids appear in court

Our Children's Trust plaintiffs December 11 2017

Plaintiffs in the Juliana v. US case rally after their appearance before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on December 11.

‘This generation’s Brown vs. Board of Education‘: Climate kids appear in court

By Tony Sirna

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Dec. 11, 2017 — Today the climate got its day in court as the Our Children’s Trust case was heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Juliana v. US has 21 youth plaintiffs charging that the government’s actions continue to degrade the climate and violate young people’s right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, despite their clear knowledge of the effects of climate change.

Eighteen of the young plaintiffs ranging from 10-21 years old were in court today as oral arguments were heard by the three-justice panel. The courtroom was packed, as were two overflow rooms, with a strong showing from local youth there to support their peers in advocating for their collective future.

As the government attorney presented their arguments, the three justices were quick to interject with questions indicating they are likely to support a continuation of the case so it can still be heard in the district court. During the plaintiffs’ arguments, the justices raised concerns indicating that there was a lot of work to be done refining the youths’ case and its arguments as it moves through the courts.

At the post-hearing rally, the mood was festive as plaintiffs felt confident that they would prevail in today’s issue before the court. Plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez of Colorado spoke about the case, saying, “This is about more than just politics, more than just the environment. This is about our futures. That’s what we are fighting and striving to protect. This lawsuit is a demonstration of young people reclaiming our democracy.”

Another plaintiff, Victoria Barrett of New York, spoke of engaging those in the government as real people. She said, “At the end of the day these institutions are made up of people just like us. The best thing we can do is remind them of their humanity: hold a mirror up to them and show them their humanity in us.”

“This case is this generation’s Brown vs Board of Education,” said Julia Olson, legal counsel for the youth. “It is time we heed James Madison’s words. He said in 1818, ‘The atmosphere is the breath of life, without which they all perish.’ The founders saw that government could abuse its power in such a way as to deprive people of their very lives and the foundation of life, and it is time for the court to be the impenetrable bulwark that stops that abuse of power and protects these young people and all future generations.”

“This case is key because it will require the government to take action on climate,” said Dr. James Hansen, also a plaintiff in the case and a member of the CCL Advisory Board. “But we also need to be ready with the right action, and that is where CCL and your work is so critical.”

Tony Sirna is CCL's IT Director and State Level Policy Coordinator. He lives in Oakland, CA and is also a co-leader of the Alameda County, CA Chapter.