Courts vs. Climate Change

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New York City launched a lawsuit against some of the larger polluters on the planet to cover the costs the city faces due to climate change (projected to be over $20 billion USD). A decade ago this case would likely have been thrown out, today with the effects of climate change so overt this case stands a winning chance. There have also been a lot of other cases brought to courts around the world that have acted on issues surrounding climate change. The New Republic recently ran a great article outlining why courts are caring about the climate and what the law has done about it.

Some of these lawsuits have succeeded in other countries. In 2015, the Dutch government was forced to lower the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in response to a class action lawsuit from its citizens. A judge in Ireland recently ruled that citizens have a constitutional right to a safe climate and environment. And last month, a climate liability lawsuit against Germany’s largest power company was allowed to move forward. “Judicial decisions around the world show that many courts have the authority, and the willingness, to hold governments to account for climate change,” said Michael Burger, executive director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. He cited a 2007 lawsuit that forced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “Similar litigation all over the world will continue to push governments and corporations to address the most pressing environmental challenge of our times.”

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The Quick and Powerful Response by the ACLU

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Over the weekend President Trump enacted what has come to be known as the Muslim Ban. Immediately protestors took to their nearby airports in act of solidarity with the people affected by Trump’s outrageous actions against migration. The protests are continuing today at American consulates and embassies around the world. This is an amazing response by Americans and other citizens to Trump’s ban (which ironically took place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day).

The action that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took over the weekend exemplified the outrage over Trump and the unity of the American people against outright acts of oppression. The ACLU had lawyers ready at nearly every international airport to help migrants and they have publicly spoke out against the Muslim Ban including a seven point action plan to hold the Trump administration to account.

The ACLU received a total of 356,306 donations online, amounting to $24,164,691, which the organization said it would use to fight for the rights of immigrants, as part of a seven-step plan to counter the Trump administration. On Twitter, donation momentum was building as venture capitalists, celebrities and entrepreneurs pledged to match other Twitter users donations.

Asked what the money from the weekends donations would go toward, the ACLU pointed to a seven-point plan of action aimed at taking on the policies of the Trump administration.

The first step in the plan is filing Freedom of Information Act petitions asking government agencies for documents related to Trump’s potential conflicts of interest, followed by plans to protect the rights of immigrants, including challenging “unconstitutional” immigration policies and defending “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

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Here’s the ACLU’s letter to President Trump.

The Future Is Now Relevant In American Courts

There’s a new tactic for environmentalists using the court system to change the world: argue that the government has a responsibility to protect people. The argument environmentalists can use is broadly known as “public trust” and how it relates to certain institutions and what they do. It is basically the notion that we a citizens entrust our government to keep us safe for now and in the future; by not protecting the environment they are endangering us now and for generations to come.

This public trust tactic has been used in other countries and now it’s winning in the USA. Let’s hope that more and more courts begin to understand that we need to act today to save tomorrow.

In 2008, Wood unveiled a novel strategy for climate activists to use the public trust as a legal tool. She called it “atmospheric trust litigation” and began giving dozens of talks about it. Prior to that, the public trust doctrine, when invoked in court at all, usually was seen through the lens of wildlife and access issues. Wood argued that the public trust doesn’t end at the earth and water, but also includes the atmosphere. And since the government is required to preserve resources for posterity—today’s youth and subsequent generations—it should be legally required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ensure a healthful and pleasant environment in the future.

In 2011, environmental attorney Julia Olson formed the Eugene, Oregon–based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust to coordinate with and support law firms that, working pro bono, have filed a flurry of lawsuits based on Wood’s ideas. In all, there have been 18 state and federal climate-change cases with adolescents as plaintiffs. The cases all claim breach of the public trust and try to force states to implement plans for emissions reductions based on science. “They’re all alleging that their futures are imperiled and that [governments are] violating their public trust rights because government continues to promote the fossil fuels regime that is destroying the climate they need for their survival,” says Wood.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Ontario Slaps SLAPPs

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that has the goal of shutting down opponents. They tend to be used as a strategy to shut down poor NGOs or poor people who can’t afford to defend themselves in a lengthy legal battle. SLAPPs tie up the courts while shutting down debate – bad for democracy and bad for all of society.

Ontario has joined many other parts of the world in passing legislation to stop SLAPPs.

The new act, which will become law in Ontario upon Royal Assent, contains a number of elements that will reduce the risk of citizens being threatened with legal action when speaking out on matters of public interest, including:

  • A new fast-track review process that will allow the courts to quickly identify and deal with strategic lawsuits
  • New protections for individuals from defamation lawsuits when their concerns are reported to the public through a third party, such as a blogger or a reporter
  • Faster and less expensive procedures at boards and tribunals that will allow parties to make written submissions about legal costs instead of making submissions in person.

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Thanks to Delaney!

Marijuana Decriminalization Lowers Youth Crime Rate

Marijuana has been recently decriminalized in a few states in the USA, and based off of data from California the overall rate of youth arrests will drop dramatically. This is good news because now so many young lives won’t be destroyed for participating in using a drug that has negligible health effects (way less than alcohol) and is an insanely costly law to enforce. In Canada, the majority of Canadians encourage decriminalization for similar reasons.

The San Francisco-based Center on Juvenile & Criminal Justice (CJCJ) recently released a policy briefing with an analysis of arrest data collected by the California Department of Justice’s Criminal Justice Statistics Center. The briefing, “California Youth Crime Plunges to All-Time Low,” identifies a new state marijuana decriminalization law that applies to juveniles, not just adults, as the driving force behind the plummeting arrest totals.

After the new pot law went into effect in January 2011, simple marijuana possession arrests of California juveniles fell from 14,991 in 2010 to 5,831 in 2011, a 61 percent difference, the report by CJCJ senior research fellow Mike Males found.

Read more at AlterNet