A group of teenagers who sued the U.S. government three years ago for doing little to combat climate change are headed toward a trial, but President Donald Trump is no longer a defendant.
U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in Eugene, Oregon, on Monday rejected government requests to throw out the lawsuit, saying that would be premature based on the evidence provided by the plaintiffs.
The judge said Trump must be excused from the case because the office of the president is not central to the policy changes sought by plaintiffs: an action plan to end the use of fossil fuels.
Noting that it raises “serious constitutional questions” to let the president remain as an individual defendant, Aiken said lower government officials can provide whatever relief is deemed appropriate. The judge said the plaintiffs can seek to reintroduce Trump as a defendant as the case progresses. The non-jury trial is scheduled to take four months.
The group of mostly teenagers in Oregon alleged in a 2015 complaint that government policies have exacerbated global warming in violation of their rights — and those of future generations — under the U.S. Constitution. Former resident Barack Obama’s administration failed to get the case dismissed in 2016.
Lawyers for the teens had argued that Trump should be a party to the case because he has signed orders on specific policies that affect climate change — including rolling back Obama’s Clean Power Plan, cutting back regulatory environmental reviews and supporting the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
The U.S asked the Supreme Court to put the lawsuit on hold, but the justices turned down the request in July, calling it premature. The government has since filed an emergency petition with the San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to halt proceedings.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Monday’s ruling as it reviews the order, but called the case “an unconstitutional attempt” to control the “entire nation’s energy and climate policy.”
Lawyers for the plaintiffs weren’t immediately available for comment.
The case is Juliana v. U.S.A., 15-cv-01517, U.S. District Court, District of Oregon (Eugene).