Taking a Stand: Climate Change Litigants and the Viability of Constitutional Claims

By Mina Juhn

In response to the accelerating effects of global warming, individuals and citizen groups in the United States have brought suit against the federal government to challenge the adequacy of existing climate change policies. Though statutory and tort claims comprise the bulk of these actions, plaintiffs have begun alleging that government inaction on climate change violates constitutional and fundamental rights. In these matters, the federal judiciary generally applies threshold justiciability doctrines, such as standing and the political question doctrine, to deny judicial review. This Note examines the reasoning behind the judiciary’s application of these doctrines and evaluates the appropriate scope of judicial engagement in climate change litigation, arguing that broad invocation of these doctrines undermines the judiciary’s role of protecting citizens’ constitutional rights. It also argues for the recognition of the fundamental right to a stable climate implicit in the Constitution. The recent case of Juliana v. United States is as an illustrative example of the opportunities and difficulties inherent in climate change lawsuits.