Friday, October 16, 2020
Today the Supreme Court set oral argument in Trump v. New York for Monday, November 30. Here are the questions presented, which include a question on the lower court's authority to grant relief under Article III:
Congress has provided that, for purposes of apportioning seats in the House of Representatives, the President shall prepare “a statement showing the whole number of persons in each State * * * as ascertained under the * * * decennial census of the population.” 2 U.S.C. 2a(a). It has further provided that the Secretary of Commerce shall take the decennial census “in such form and content as he may determine,” 13 U.S.C. 141(a), and shall tabulate the results in a report to the President, 13 U.S.C. 141(b). The President has issued a Memorandum instructing the Secretary to include within that report information enabling the President to implement a policy decision to exclude illegal aliens from the base population number for apportionment “to the maximum extent feasible and consistent with the discretion delegated to the executive branch.” 85 Fed. Reg. 44,679, 44,680 (July 23, 2020). At the behest of plaintiffs urging that the exclusion of illegal aliens would unconstitutionally alter the apportionment and chill some persons from participating in the census, a three-judge district court declared the Memorandum unlawful and enjoined the Secretary from including the information in his report. The questions presented are:
(1) Whether the relief entered satisfies the requirements of Article III of the Constitution.
(2) Whether the Memorandum is a permissible exercise of the President’s discretion under the provisions of law governing congressional apportionment.
Monday, October 5, 2020
The Supreme Court begins oral argument by telephone conference this morning. If you want to listen in, here’s some information from the Supreme Court’s press release:
The Court will hear oral arguments by telephone conference on October 5, 6, 7, 13, and 14. In keeping with public health guidance in response to COVID-19, the Justices and counsel will all participate remotely. The oral arguments are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. On days when more than one case will be heard, there will be a three minute pause before the second case begins.
The Court will provide a live audio feed of the arguments to ABC News (the network pool chair), the Associated Press, and C-SPAN, and they will in turn provide a simultaneous feed for the oral arguments to livestream on various media platforms for public access. * * *
The oral argument audio and a transcript of the oral arguments will be posted on the Court's website following oral argument each day.
Today’s arguments include Carney v. Adams, which presents some interesting standing and severability issues.
Friday, October 2, 2020
The question presented involves the permissible scope of an appellate court’s review of a district court’s order remanding a case to state court. From the cert. petition:
Section 1447(d) of Title 28 of the United States Code generally precludes appellate review of an order remanding a removed case to state court. But Section 1447(d) expressly provides that an “order remanding a case * * * removed pursuant to” the federal-officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, or the civil-rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1443, “shall be reviewable by appeal or otherwise.” Some courts of appeals have interpreted Section 1447(d) to permit appellate review of any issue encompassed in a district court’s remand order where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal-officer or civil-rights removal statutes; other courts of appeals, including the Fourth Circuit in this case, have held that appellate review is limited to the federal-officer or civil-rights ground for removal. The question presented is as follows:
Whether 28 U.S.C. 1447(d) permits a court of appeals to review any issue encompassed in a district court’s order remanding a removed case to state court where the removing defendant premised removal in part on the federal-officer removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1442, or the civil-rights removal statute, 28 U.S.C. 1443.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Last week, Donald Trump filed a petition for certiorari challenging the Fourth Circuit’s en banc decision in In re Trump. That case arises from a lawsuit filed in Maryland federal court alleging violations of the Emoluments Clauses. As covered earlier, the Fourth Circuit ultimately allowed the lawsuit to proceed, refusing to grant Trump a writ of mandamus directing the district court to dismiss the case.
The pending Supreme Court case is captioned Trump v. District of Columbia, and the questions are focused on appellate jurisdiction:
- Whether a writ of mandamus is appropriate because, contrary to the holding of the court of appeals, the district court’s denial of the President’s motion to dismiss was clear and indisputable legal error.
- Whether a writ of mandamus is appropriate, contrary to the holding of the court of appeals, where the district court’s refusal to grant the President’s motion to certify an interlocutory appeal was a clear abuse of discretion under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b).
If folks are interested, I talk about some of these issues in a recent article Appellate Jurisdiction and the Emoluments Litigation, which was part of the Akron Law Review’s recent symposium on federal appellate procedure.
Thursday, September 3, 2020
Rich Freer has posted on SSRN a draft of his article, The Political Reality of Diversity Jurisdiction, which is forthcoming in the Southern California Law Review. Here’s the abstract:
Diversity of citizenship jurisdiction has been a staple of federal civil dockets since 1789. In the mid- to late-twentieth century, academics and some high-profile federal judges led a significant effort to abolish diversity jurisdiction. They were confident that diversity had outlived its purpose, which, they said, was to provide a federal court for out-of-state litigants who feared bias in the local state courts.
But diversity survived. Today, it represents a burgeoning percentage of the federal civil docket and is supported by an efficiency rationale that did not exist at the founding. Academics and judges seem relatively ambivalent toward, and even accepting of, this form of federal jurisdiction. We are in the midst of a resurgence of academic interest in diversity – not to abolish it, but to rationalize the various threads of its doctrine.
These efforts should be informed by the lessons that should have been learned by those who sought to abolish diversity jurisdiction. First, diversity is not a free-standing phenomenon. It is part of a carefully constructed constitutional plan intended to promote the free flow of commerce and a national identity. Second, what is usually presented as the traditional justification for diversity is sclerotic and understates the value of diversity jurisdiction. Third, as a matter of political power, the bar embraces diversity jurisdiction and will fight to keep it. At one level, we retain diversity for raw political reason. But the bar’s embrace is important for another reason: it likely manifests rational choices made in the interests of litigation clients. At least, the embrace should spur meaningful study of the interests served by diversity jurisdiction (study that remains to be done). And that study must appreciate that, over two centuries, an elaborate legal culture has emerged concerning the relations of state and federal courts.
Monday, August 31, 2020
We covered earlier the D.C. Circuit’s grant of a writ of mandamus in In re Flynn, which involves the federal government’s Rule 48(a) motion to dismiss the criminal charges against Michael Flynn. Today the en banc D.C. Circuit reversed course, denying Flynn’s request for a writ of mandamus by an 8-2 vote.
From the court’s per curiam opinion:
As to Petitioner’s first two requests—to compel the immediate grant of the Government’s motion, and to vacate the District Court’s appointment of amicus—Petitioner has not established that he has “no other adequate means to attain the relief he desires.” Cheney v. U.S. Dist. Court for D.C., 542 U.S. 367, 380 (2004) (quoting Kerr v. U.S. Dist. Court for N. Dist. of Cal., 426 U.S. 394, 403 (1976)). We also decline to mandate that the case be reassigned to a different district judge, because Petitioner has not established a clear and indisputable right to reassignment. See id. at 381. We therefore deny the Petition.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Last week the Second Circuit denied President Trump’s petition for en banc rehearing in CREW v. Trump. This left in place the panel decision (953 F.3d 178) reversing the district court’s dismissal for lack of standing.
Here’s a link to the en banc ruling, which features several separate opinions and statements:
José A. Cabranes, Circuit Judge, dissents by opinion from the denial of rehearing en banc.
Steven J. Menashi, Circuit Judge, joined by Debra Ann Livingston and Richard J. Sullivan, Circuit Judges, dissents by opinion from the denial of rehearing en banc.
John M. Walker, Jr., Circuit Judge, filed a statement with respect to the denial of rehearing en banc.
Pierre N. Leval, Circuit Judge, filed a statement with respect to the denial of rehearing en banc.
Thursday, July 9, 2020
This morning featured some important decisions from the Supreme Court, but everyone knows the real action is at the after party. Here are some interesting grants of certiorari from this afternoon’s order list:
AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC and FTC v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC involve the extent to which § 13(b) of the Federal Trade Commission Act’s authorization for district courts to issue an “injunction” permits monetary relief such as restitution or the return of unlawfully obtained funds.
Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski presents the question “whether a government’s post-filing change of an unconstitutional policy moots nominal-damages claims that vindicate the government’s past, completed violation of a plaintiff’s constitutional right.”
Here’s where to go if you want to find the cert-stage briefing and follow the merits briefs as they come in:
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Today’s Supreme Court order list was a big one for the international side of civil procedure and federal courts. The Court granted certiorari in four interesting cases:
Republic of Hungary v. Simon presents the following question: “May the district court abstain from exercising jurisdiction under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act for reasons of international comity, where former Hungarian nationals have sued the nation of Hungary to recover the value of property lost in Hungary during World War II, and where the plaintiffs made no attempt to exhaust local Hungarian remedies?”
Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp presents two questions:
1) Whether the “expropriation exception” of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1605(a)(3), which abrogates foreign sovereign immunity when “rights in property taken in violation of international law are in issue,” provides jurisdiction over claims that a foreign sovereign has violated international human-rights law when taking property from its own national within its own borders, even though such claims do not implicate the established international law governing states’ responsibility for takings of property.
2) Whether the doctrine of international comity is unavailable in cases against foreign sovereigns, even in cases of considerable historical and political significance to the foreign sovereign, and even where the foreign nation has a domestic framework for addressing the claims.
Nestlé USA, Inc. v. Doe I presents two questions:
1) Whether an aiding and abetting claim against a domestic corporation brought under the Alien Tort Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1350, may overcome the extraterritoriality bar where the claim is based on allegations of general corporate activity in the United States and where plaintiffs cannot trace the alleged harms, which occurred abroad at the hands of unidentified foreign actors, to that activity.
2) Whether the Judiciary has the authority under the Alien Tort Statute to impose liability on domestic corporations.
And Cargill Inc. v. Doe I presents two related questions:
1) Whether the presumption against extraterritorial application of the Alien Tort Statute is displaced by allegations that a U.S. company generally conducted oversight of its foreign operations at its headquarters and made operational and financial decisions there, even though the conduct alleged to violate international law occurred in—and the plaintiffs’ suffered their injuries in—a foreign country.
2) Whether a domestic corporation is subject to liability in a private action under the Alien Tort Statute.
The Court has consolidated Nestlé and Cargill for briefing and oral argument.
Here’s where to go if you want to find the cert-stage briefing and follow the merits briefs as they come in:
Thursday, June 4, 2020
In addition to Monday’s decision on Article III standing in Thole v. U.S. Bank, here are some other notable developments at One First Street this week...
The Court issued a 7-2 decision in Banister v. Davis. Justice Kagan’s majority opinion holds that a habeas petitioner’s FRCP 59(e) motion to alter or amend the habeas court’s judgment is not a second or successive habeas petition for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2244. Justice Alito writes a dissent, joined by Justice Thomas. Check out Steve Vladeck’s analysis at SCOTUSblog.
The Court issued a unanimous decision in GE Energy Power Conversion France SAS v. Outokumpu Stainless USA, LLC. Justice Thomas’s opinion holds that the Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (a.k.a. the New York Convention) does not conflict with domestic equitable estoppel doctrines permitting the enforcement of arbitration agreements by nonsignatories. Justice Sotomayor authors a concurring opinion. Ronald Mann analyzes the decision at SCOTUSblog.
The Court issued a 7-2 decision in Nasrallah v. Barr. Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion interprets 8 U.S.C. § 1252(a)(2) to permit the federal courts of appeals to review a factual challenge to an order denying relief under the Convention Against Torture, even for individuals who committed a crime specified in § 1252(a)(2)(C). Justice Thomas writes a dissent, joined by Justice Alito. Check out Jennifer Chacon’s analysis at SCOTUSblog and Bryan Lammon’s post at Final Decisions.
Finally, Monday’s order list included denials of certiorari in two cases—Comcast v. Tillage and AT&T Mobility v. McArdle—involving FAA preemption of state law on the enforceability of contractual provisions that waive a party’s right to seek public injunctive relief. Alison Frankel has coverage at Reuters (On the Case).
Monday, June 1, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 decision in Thole v. U.S. Bank N.A. Justice Kavanaugh’s majority opinion concludes that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing. Some excerpts:
Plaintiffs James Thole and Sherry Smith are two retired participants in U. S. Bank’s retirement plan. Of decisive importance to this case, the plaintiffs’ retirement plan is a defined-benefit plan, not a defined-contribution plan. In a defined-benefit plan, retirees receive a fixed payment each month, and the payments do not fluctuate with the value of the plan or because of the plan fiduciaries’ good or bad investment decisions. * * *
We affirm the judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on the ground that the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. Thole and Smith have received all of their monthly benefit payments so far, and the outcome of this suit would not affect their future benefit payments. If Thole and Smith were to lose this lawsuit, they would still receive the exact same monthly benefits that they are already slated to receive, not a penny less. If Thole and Smith were to win this lawsuit, they would still receive the exact same monthly benefits that they are already slated to receive, not a penny more. The plaintiffs therefore have no concrete stake in this lawsuit. To be sure, their attorneys have a stake in the lawsuit, but an “interest in attorney’s fees is, of course, insufficient to create an Article III case or controversy where none exists on the merits of the underlying claim.” Lewis v. Continental Bank Corp., 494 U. S. 472, 480 (1990); see Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Environment, 523 U. S. 83, 107 (1998) (same). Because the plaintiffs themselves have no concrete stake in the lawsuit, they lack Article III standing.
Justice Kavanaugh does leave open one possible avenue for participants in a defined-benefit plan to satisfy Article III’s standing requirements:
One last wrinkle remains. According to the plaintiffs’ amici, plan participants in a defined-benefit plan have standing to sue if the mismanagement of the plan was so egregious that it substantially increased the risk that the plan and the employer would fail and be unable to pay the participants’ future pension benefits. Cf. Clapper v. Amnesty Int’l USA, 568 U. S. 398, 414, n. 5 (2013); Lee v. Verizon Communications, Inc., 837 F. 3d 523, 545–546 (CA5 2016); David v. Alphin, 704 F. 3d 327, 336–338 (CA4 2013). But the plaintiffs do not assert that theory of standing in this Court. In any event, the plaintiffs’ complaint did not plausibly and clearly claim that the alleged mismanagement of the plan substantially increased the risk that the plan and the employer would fail and be unable to pay the plaintiffs’ future pension benefits. It is true that the plaintiffs’ complaint alleged that the plan was underfunded for a period of time. But a bare allegation of plan underfunding does not itself demonstrate a substantially increased risk that the plan and the employer would both fail.
Footnote 2 adds a wrinkle to the wrinkle, however:
Even if a defined-benefit plan is mismanaged into plan termination, the federal PBGC by law acts as a backstop and covers the vested pension benefits up to a certain amount and often in full. For example, if the plan and the employer in this case were to fail, the PBGC would be required to pay these two plaintiffs all of their vested pension benefits in full. * * * Any increased-risk-of-harm theory of standing therefore might not be available for plan participants whose benefits are guaranteed in full by the PBGC. But we need not decide that question in this case.
Justice Thomas authors a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Gorsuch, arguing that in a future case the Court should reconsider its precedents suggesting a need to make “analogies to trust law” when deciding Article III standing.
Justice Sotomayor authors a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan. It begins:
The Court holds that the Constitution prevents millions of pensioners from enforcing their rights to prudent and loyal management of their retirement trusts. Indeed, the Court determines that pensioners may not bring a federal lawsuit to stop or cure retirement-plan mismanagement until their pensions are on the verge of default. This conclusion conflicts with common sense and longstanding precedent.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Today the Ninth Circuit rejected federal jurisdiction over two lawsuits against various energy companies based on the effect of fossil fuels on climate change. One action (County of San Mateo v. Chevron) was initially filed in state court but removed to federal court. Another (City of Oakland v. BP) was initially filed in federal court. Judge Ikuta writes the opinion in both cases, joined by Judges Christen and Lee.
The San Mateo decision begins:
In this appeal, we consider a district court’s order remanding complaints to state court after the defendants had removed the complaints to federal court on eight separate grounds. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d), we have jurisdiction to review the remand order only to the extent it addresses whether removal was proper under § 1442(a)(1), see Patel v. Del Taco, Inc., 446 F.3d 996, 998 (9th Cir. 2006), which authorizes removal by “any person acting under” a federal officer, 28 U.S.C. § 1442(a)(1). We conclude that the defendants did not carry their burden of establishing this criteria for removal. Because we lack jurisdiction to review other aspects of the remand order, we dismiss the remainder of the appeal.
The Oakland decision begins:
Two California cities brought actions in state court alleging that the defendants’ production and promotion of fossil fuels is a public nuisance under California law, and the defendants removed the complaints to federal court. We hold that the state-law claim for public nuisance does not arise under federal law for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and we remand to the district court to consider whether there was an alternative basis for subject-matter jurisdiction.
Friday, May 15, 2020
There are major political implications, obviously, but these decisions are all about appellate jurisdiction—the majority declines to review the district court’s denial of Trump’s motions to dismiss without addressing the substantive merits of those rulings. Stay tuned, of course: it’s quite likely that this case is headed to the Supreme Court.
Friday, May 1, 2020
And here are some cases that present interesting procedural, jurisdictional, or other fed-courts-y issues:
Wednesday, May 6:
(1) Whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court; and
(2) Whether the court of appeals erred in affirming a nationwide preliminary injunction barring implementation of the final rules.
Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants (19-631) has an interesting severance issue. Here’s the question presented: Whether the government-debt exception to the TCPA's automated-call restriction violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exception from the remainder of the statute.
Monday, May 11:
McGirt v. Oklahoma (18-9526) presents the question: Whether Oklahoma courts can continue to unlawfully exercise, under state law, criminal jurisdiction as “justiciable matter” in Indian country over Indians accused of major crimes enumerated under the Indian Major Crimes Act--which are under exclusive federal jurisdiction.
Tuesday, May 12:
In Trump v. Mazars USA (19-715) and Trump v. Deutsche Bank AG (19-760), the Court has directed the parties to file supplemental briefs addressing “political question doctrine or related justiciability principles.”
Wednesday, May 13:
Colorado Department of State v. Baca (19-518) presents this question on standing (among others): Whether a presidential elector who is prevented by their appointing State from casting an Electoral College ballot that violates state law lacks standing to sue their appointing State because they hold no constitutionally protected right to exercise discretion.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn., Inc. v. City of New York, a case challenging New York City’s rule on transporting firearms (covered earlier here). The rule was amended after certiorari was granted, and today’s per curiam opinion finds that the “claim for declaratory and injunctive relief with respect to the City’s old rule is therefore moot.” The Court remands the case for the lower courts to consider claims the plaintiffs may have regarding the City’s new rule, as well as whether the plaintiffs may add a claim for damages with respect to the old rule.
Justice Kavanaugh authors a concurring opinion.
Justice Alito authors a dissenting opinion, joined in full by Justice Gorsuch and in part by Justice Thomas, arguing that the case should not have been dismissed as moot and that the City’s rule violated the Second Amendment.
Tuesday, April 21, 2020
There were some interesting jurisdictional issues in yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian.
First, the Court ruled that the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling was a “final judgment” that the Supreme Court had jurisdiction to review under 28 U.S.C. § 1257, even though the Montana court’s ruling allowed the case to proceed to trial. Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion reasoned that the Montana Supreme Court had “exercised review in this case through a writ of supervisory control” and that “[u]nder Montana law, a supervisory writ proceeding is a self-contained case, not an interlocutory appeal.”
Second, the Supreme Court found that the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) did not forbid state courts from exercising jurisdiction over actions based on state law. CERCLA “deprives state courts of jurisdiction over claims brought under the Act. But it does not displace state court jurisdiction over claims brought under other sources of law.” Chief Justice Roberts reasoned:
Section 113(b) of the Act provides that “the United States district courts shall have exclusive original jurisdiction over all controversies arising under this chapter,” so state courts lack jurisdiction over such actions. 42 U. S. C. §9613(b). This case, however, does not “arise under” the Act. The use of “arising under” in §113(b) echoes Congress’s more familiar use of that phrase in granting federal courts jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U. S. C. §1331. In the mine run of cases, “[a] suit arises under the law that creates the cause of action.” American Well Works Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U. S. 257, 260 (1916).4
Footnote 4 clarifies:
There is a “special and small category of cases” that originate in state law yet still arise under federal law for purposes of federal question jurisdiction. Gunn v. Minton, 568 U. S. 251, 258 (2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). To qualify for this narrow exception, a state law claim must “necessarily raise” a federal issue, among other requirements. Ibid. No element of the landowners’ state common law claims necessarily raises a federal issue. Atlantic Richfield raises the Act as an affirmative defense, but “[f]ederal jurisdiction cannot be predicated on an actual or anticipated defense.” Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U. S. 49, 60 (2009).
Friday, March 6, 2020
Today the Fourth Circuit issued a unanimous panel decision in Mayor and City Council of Baltimore v. BP P.L.C. Judge Floyd’s opinion begins:
This appeal is about whether a climate-change lawsuit against oil and gas companies belongs in federal court. But this decision is only about whether one path to federal court lies open. Because 28 U.S.C. § 1447(d) confines our appellate jurisdiction, the narrow question before us is whether removal of this lawsuit is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1442, commonly referred to as the federal officer removal statute. And because we conclude that § 1442 does not provide a proper basis for removal, we affirm the district court’s remand order.
Here is the full opinion:
Monday, March 2, 2020
Big Article III Standing and Severability Questions in Today's SCOTUS Cert Grants on the Affordable Care Act
Today the Supreme Court granted certiorari in California v. Texas and Texas v. California and consolidated the two cases. These cases involve the constitutionality of the minimum-coverage provision (also known as the “individual mandate”) of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). They also present important questions regarding Article III standing (whether the individual and state plaintiffs have standing to challenge the minimum-coverage provision of the ACA) and severability (if the minimum-coverage provision is unconstitutional, can it be severed from the rest of the ACA).
Friday, February 7, 2020
Today a D.C. Circuit panel (Judges Henderson, Tatel & Griffith) issued its decision in Blumenthal v. Trump. The per curiam opinion begins:
In this case, 215 Members of the Congress (Members) sued President Donald J. Trump based on allegations that he has repeatedly violated the United States Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause (Clause). The district court’s denial of the President’s motion to dismiss begins with a legal truism: “When Members of Congress sue the President in federal court over official action, a court must first determine whether the dispute is a ‘Case’ or ‘Controversy’ under Article III of the United States Constitution, rather than a political dispute between the elected branches of government.” Blumenthal v. Trump, 335 F. Supp. 3d 45, 49–50 (D.D.C. 2018). Although undoubtedly accurate, the district court’s observation fails to tell the rest of the story, which story we set forth infra. Because we conclude that the Members lack standing, we reverse the district court and remand with instructions to dismiss their complaint.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Last week the Ninth Circuit issued a decision in Juliana v. United States, covered earlier here and here. Judge Hurwitz authored the majority opinion, joined by Judge Murguia, finding that the plaintiffs lacked Article III standing to pursue their claims against the federal government. The opinion begins:
In the mid-1960s, a popular song warned that we were “on the eve of destruction.” The plaintiffs in this case have presented compelling evidence that climate change has brought that eve nearer. A substantial evidentiary record documents that the federal government has long promoted fossil fuel use despite knowing that it can cause catastrophic climate change, and that failure to change existing policy may hasten an environmental apocalypse.
The plaintiffs claim that the government has violated their constitutional rights, including a claimed right under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The central issue before us is whether, even assuming such a broad constitutional right exists, an Article III court can provide the plaintiffs the redress they seek—an order requiring the government to develop a plan to “phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2.” Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.
District Court Judge Josephine Staton, sitting by designation, wrote a dissenting opinion. It begins:
In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity. It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation.
My colleagues throw up their hands, concluding that this case presents nothing fit for the Judiciary. On a fundamental point, we agree: No case can singlehandedly prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change predicted by the government and scientists. But a federal court need not manage all of the delicate foreign relations and regulatory minutiae implicated by climate change to offer real relief, and the mere fact that this suit cannot alone halt climate change does not mean that it presents no claim suitable for judicial resolution.
Plaintiffs bring suit to enforce the most basic structural principle embedded in our system of ordered liberty: that the Constitution does not condone the Nation’s willful destruction. So viewed, plaintiffs’ claims adhere to a judicially administrable standard. And considering plaintiffs seek no less than to forestall the Nation’s demise, even a partial and temporary reprieve would constitute meaningful redress. Such relief, much like the desegregation orders and statewide prison injunctions the Supreme Court has sanctioned, would vindicate plaintiffs’ constitutional rights without exceeding the Judiciary’s province. For these reasons, I respectfully dissent.