Photo Essay: Calling for a right to a stable climate, Board joins Climate Youth at Court of Appeals Rally

June 5, 2019

Left to right, Board members Sharon Meieran, Susheela Jayapal, Jessica Vega Pederson, Deborah Kafoury and Lori Stegmann applaud climate youth and their legal team.

Multnomah County Board of Commissioners joined the young people who are currently suing the federal and state governments for failing to protect public trust resources as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took up their case, Juliana v. United States, on  Tuesday, June 4, in Portland. The Board is the only local jurisdiction in the Metro area which has formally supported the climate youth, filing a "friend of the court'' brief in their case against the State of Oregon. 

The Youth's attorney Julia Olson is greeted by cheers after arguing before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On Tuesday, June 4, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will decide whether the Juliana plaintiffs will go to trial against the Trump administration. The lawsuit was scheduled to begin trial on Oct. 29, 2018, in Eugene, Oregon. The Court, in a 2-1 decision, granted the Trump administration’s request for an early (interlocutory) appeal in the case. In January, the Court granted plaintiffs’ request to expedite the briefing schedule, which put the appeal on a fast-track.

Chair Deborah Kafoury marches with youth and other commissioners.

“Our children have the right to a stable climate,” said Chair Kafoury, “and the sad truth is that we as adults are failing them. It is time for all levels and branches of government to realize that we have no time left, that we must act now, and that it is our duty to act when the public trust is under threat."

These were among hundreds of young people from across Oregon and the United States who gathered June 4 in Portland.

The youth assert that the federal government, by its actions that create climate change, is depriving them of their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and is failing to protect essential public trust resources.

Youth shouted slogans as they prepared to march to Director Park.

The lead plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, is also part of an Oregon state case, Chernaik v. Brown, in which the youth plaintiffs argue the state has a duty to protect public trust resources. In March, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners filed a “friend of the court” petition in the state of Oregon case, asserting the state has a duty to protect public trust resources.

Lead Plaintiff Kelsey Juliana addresses the crowd.

In a recent victory for the youth plaintiffs in Chernaik v. Brown, the Oregon Supreme Court granted review for their case. The Court also granted Multnomah County “friend of the court” status that allows the County to submit a merits brief detailing the County’s position as to why governments at all levels, under the public trust doctrine, have a duty to protect the climate for future generations. The public trust doctrine is a longstanding doctrine whereby government holds vital natural resources in “trust” for the public; the beneficiaries of this trust are present and future generations.

Levi Draheim, 11, lives on a threatened barrier reef in Florida.

By seeking to file a brief in support of the youths’ case, Multnomah County is the first government jurisdiction in the country to publicly support the plaintiffs’ positions in both Chernaik v. Brown and Julianna v. United States, and to assert that government does have an affirmative duty to protect the atmosphere from the negative effects of climate change.

Plaintiffs Kelsey Juliana hugs Levi Draheim as Board members look on.

Multnomah County is the only local jurisdiction to file a friend of the court brief in the youth's state case.