On November 10, 2016, just two days after the election of President Donald Trump, the federal district court in Oregon handed down Juliana v. United States. This remarkable decision refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by youth plaintiffs who claimed that the federal government's fossil fuel policies over the years, which have produced an atmosphere with dangerous levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs), violated the federal public trust doctrine (PTD) and their federal constitutional rights to due process and equal protection. The court found a constitutional right to a stable climate system, determining that the PTD was an implicit part of due process and enforceable through the Constitution's due process clause. At trial, if the youth plaintiffs are able to prove that for decades the government willfully disregarded information about the potential catastrophic effects of GHG pollution, or abdicated its public trust duties, the decision could be transformative in global efforts to shift to an energy policy that does not threaten young people and future generations.
This Article examines Juliana, its context as part of a worldwide campaign of "atmospheric trust" litigation, its path-breaking reasoning, and its implications in the United States and abroad. The case has been described as "the case of the century" and, because of the harm it aims to address and the fundamental rights approach endorsed by the court, it just may be that. Pending the forthcoming trial and almost certain appeals, we think the case is, as the trial judge accurately recognized, "no ordinary lawsuit."