Washington Appeals court: Climate Change Action a 'Political Question,' Not for the Judiciary to Decide


The state Court of Appeals has rejected claims of 13 young plaintiffs that they have a constitutional right to a stable climate system "that sustains human life and liberty." They asked the court to affirm that right, and called for an enforceable Washington plan to reduce carbon emissions.

But the Washington Appeals Court ruled that the "Youth's claims present a political question to be determined by the people and their elected representatives, not the judiciary."

The 36-page decision released this week affirms an earlier decision by the King County Superior Court and will be appealed to the state Supreme Court, according to Andrea Rodgers, attorney with Our Children's Trust who represents the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit, filed in 2018, names the state, Gov. Jay Inslee, and several state agencies as defendants. It alleges that actions the defendants are taking make the climate crisis worse and causing harm to the plaintiffs.

The lawsuit is part of a wide-ranging effort by Our Children's Trust to hold governments accountable in courtrooms for actions that cause climate change.

The organization has filed lawsuits or legal actions in 50 states, and actions in seven states are now pending. The organization also filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 21 young plaintiffs in 2015 to tackle climate change more quickly that was dismissed in January 2020 by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court Appeals. Those plaintiffs have petitioned the court for a rehearing, and now are awaiting a ruling on that request.

In their initial Washington lawsuit in King County, the youth alleged that state the placed them "in a position of danger with deliberate indifference to their safety in a manner that ... violated fundamental and inalienable constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property." They sought a court order affirming those constitutional rights, and that they are being violated, according to Rodgers.

The Superior Court ruled that there is no fundamental constitutional right to a clean environment. In the Appeals Court ruling, judges wrote that this court "is not the vehicle by which the Youth may establish and enforce their goals."

Rodgers attacked the ruling as a "travesty of justice."