Washington Youth Climate Case
What's at Stake
The Washington youth case was filed in 2018 and alleges the state government is causing climate change, violating the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and equal protection of the law, and has impaired essential public trust resources.
Plaintiffs are 13 young Washingtonians between the ages of 7 and 17 (at the time the complaint was filed), who are being harmed by the impacts of climate change. As youth, the plaintiffs are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and will experience its increasing effects to a greater degree than today’s adults. Defendants are the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee, and several state agencies including the state Department of Ecology and Department of Transportation. The case alleges that defendants have longstanding knowledge that carbon dioxide emissions, including those from Washington’s fossil fuel-based energy and transportation systems, cause climate change and endanger the youth plaintiffs’ safety. The plaintiffs argue that by continuing to permit transportation and energy projects that emit high levels of carbon dioxide, the defendants violate plaintiffs’ rights under the Public Trust Doctrine and the due process and equal protection clauses of the Washington State Constitution. The plaintiffs ask the court to order defendants to develop an enforceable state climate recovery plan.
In support of the youth plaintiffs of Washington, we represent the League of Women Voters of Washington as amicus curiae, or friends of the court. The League’s support highlights the important role of the courts in protecting the rights of all people, especially young people who lack political power, and in acting as a check on the other branches of government.
In August 2018, the trial court (King County Superior Court) granted the state’s motion to dismiss the case. The court found that the youth’s claims are “quintessentially political questions” and therefore not appropriate for court review, that there is no constitutional right to a healthful environment, and that the youth did not present an appropriate equal protection claim. The youth plaintiffs filed an appeal of the decision, seeking direct review in the Washington Supreme Court. In June 2019, the Supreme Court denied direct review, transferring the appeal to the Court of Appeals. Since then, we have been tracking the case and updating our clients regarding the status of oral argument, which was originally proposed for spring 2020. After significant delay, the oral argument is now scheduled to be held on September 17, 2020.
In support of the youth plaintiffs of Washington, Crag represents the League of Women Voters of Washington as amicus curiae, or friends of the court. The League works to ensure that the voices and interests of all individuals, particularly those underrepresented in government, are spoken and accounted for in political decision-making. At times, this means that the League will file amicus briefs where the political branches have failed to protect the rights of individuals, and the courts must be asked to step in to protect those rights.
The League’s support highlights the important role of the courts in protecting the rights of all people, especially young people who lack political power, and in acting as a check on the other branches of government.