This Day in History

Aug. 12, 2015: Filing of Juliana v. United States

Time Periods: 2001-
Themes: Climate Justice, Laws & Citizen Rights, Organizing, Science, World History/Global Studies
The 21 plaintiffs filing suit against the U.S. government.

The 21 plaintiffs filing suit against the U.S. government. Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust

The constitutional climate case Juliana v. United States was filed by 21 youths against the U.S. government on August 12, 2015. The young people asserted that the government’s policies caused catastrophic climate change and constituted a violation of their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

The plaintiffs — which also include Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s Earth Guardians organization and climatologist James Hansen on behalf of future generations — have been represented by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust.

In 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs:

Exercising my “reasoned judgment,” I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.

Judge Aiken’s ruling was the first in federal court to consider climate justice a constitutional right. Still, the U.S. government repeatedly seeks to dismiss the case. According to Our Children’s Trust:

On June 1, 2023, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ruled in favor of the 21 youth plaintiffs, putting their constitutional climate case back on the path to trial. However, as the U.S. DOJ continues to aggressively file motions to delay or dismiss the case instead of fulfilling the Biden Administration’s promises to work with youth for climate justice, attorneys for both sides will continue briefing the same legal issues that have already been addressed by the courts multiple times. Judge Aiken’s ruling on recent motions filed by both the plaintiffs and the DOJ can be expected in the coming months. Read more.

Juliana vs. US defendants standing during a press conference.

Additional Resources

Find an interactive timeline of the case and ways to support the Juliana defendants at Our Children’s Trust.

A Federal Court Threw Out A High Profile Climate Lawsuit. Here’s What It Might Mean For The Future of Climate Litigation by Madeleine Carlisle (Time)

21 Kids Sued the Government Over Climate Change. A Federal Court Dismissed the Case by Umair Irfan (Vox)

And check out the documentary Youth v. Gov, available on Netflix. Watch the trailer below.

This event is included on the Zinn Education Project’s Climate Crisis Timeline.