In loss for Trump, court refuses to halt kids’ suit

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, July 23, 2018

A federal appeals court swiftly rejected the Trump administration’s latest bid to halt a lawsuit brought by young plaintiffs over climate change.

The three-judge panel issued a short order today denying the administration’s July 5 request to overrule a district court’s decision to let the suit proceed.

“The government has made no showing that it would be meaningfully prejudiced by engaging in discovery or trial,” the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel wrote.

This is the second time that the Trump administration has appealed to the 9th Circuit to fight the lawsuit over the government’s alleged role in causing and worsening the dangers of climate change.

The 21 youth plaintiffs, now ranging from ages 11 to 22, initially brought the suit against the Obama administration, arguing that the government has violated its duty to protect the public trust by ensuring the safety of the atmosphere, water, seas, seashore and wildlife for future generations.

In March, the 9th Circuit denied the Trump administration’s first petition for writ of mandamus — considered an extraordinary request for a higher court to circumvent a lower court’s decision — which sought to overturn a district court’s denial of dismissal motions.

On July 5, the administration filed a second petition, seeking to halt the discovery process ahead of a scheduled October trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon (Greenwire, July 12).

But the 9th Circuit today rejected all the government’s arguments, including that forcing administration officials to answer questions on climate change would constitute improper “agency decisionmaking,” without even holding any oral arguments.

“We denied the government’s first mandamus petition, concluding that it had not met the high bar for relief at that stage of the litigation,” the panel wrote in the 10-page opinion. “No new circumstances justify this second petition, and we again decline to grant mandamus relief.”

The panel noted that the administration could challenge, at a later date, specific requests in the discovery process.

But at this point, “the district court has not issued a single order compelling discovery,” the panel said. “Instead, the government sought a protective order barring all discovery.”

Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, a Clinton appointee, issued the opinion with fellow Clinton appointee Judge Marsha Berzon and Judge Michelle Friedland, an Obama appointee. The same panel rejected the Trump administration’s first petition.

Today’s 9th Circuit ruling comes the same week that the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to step in and scuttle the lawsuit.

Government lawyers on Tuesday filed an application asking the high court to stay discovery and the trial until the 9th Circuit ruled on the mandamus petition (Greenwire, July 18).

As of this morning, the Supreme Court hadn’t yet acted on the stay request.