Our Future is a Constitutional Right! How to Use Our Rights to Defend What We Love

200 minutes
Approximately four 50-minute classes: interactive activities supported by power point slides.
Primary subjects: 
Civics and Government
Grade: 
9, 10, 11, 12
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About

Lesson 6 explores a game-changing action in real time – how to use our rights to defend against government abuses of power and to establish new rights to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system. Students consider why people seek judicial relieve and examine basic elements of a civil lawsuit, drawing on real examples from the youth-driven landmark climate cases in federal and state courts. Students explore: “standing” in a court of law; how protected classes and new rights are recognized; rights under the Public Trust Doctrine; and more. Students gain an understanding of how values, law, science, and politics interface when addressing complex public problems with multiple perspectives.

Key objectives for students
Describe why people seek judicial relief and how to bring a civil case to court.
Describe how a protected class and new fundamental rights are determined and give examples.
Explain the basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine.
Describe examples of remedies for harm in constitutional rights cases and, specifically, in some of the youth climate cases.
Explain how a “landmark” case establishes new protected classes or fundamental rights and give specific examples from Juliana v. U.S.
Describe how the court system is organized and how civil cases proceed through it.
Secondary subjects
Economics, Environmental Education, Social Studies
Skills
Collaboration, Communication skills, Creative problem solving, Critical Thinking, Systems thinking
Values
Empathy, Global Leadership, Mindfulness
Methods
Multi-Disciplinary, Project-Based Learning, Real-World Application
Background information for teachers

Throughout U.S. history, people have used their civil liberties and the power of the courts to defend their civil rights.

Only some of the constitutional rights cases are about recognizing a new fundamental right or a new “protected class” – a group of people who are linked by a defining characteristic and who have been historically discriminated against, based on that characteristic.

These particular constitutional rights cases are game changers, in the sense that affirmative action by a court would set legal precedent. It would result in a new body of law to secure protection and benefits under the new rights, in the interest of maintaining our order of society.

Now before the state and federal courts are such game-changing cases. What makes these of interest to educators and students is that the cases are being brought by youth under 18.

These young people are challenging the U.S. government and governments in all 50 states and in 12 other countries over breach of fiduciary duty to protect the climate for their generation. The youth are asking for science-based climate recovery plans and action as judicial relief.

The youth plaintiffs are supported by Our Children’s Trust, a small nonprofit organization in Eugene, Oregon. Julia Olson, a young mother and lawyer, directs Our Children’s Trust and is the lead lawyer in the federal youth climate case.

In the federal climate case, Juliana v. U.S., youth plaintiffs are claiming that the U.S. government has infringed or violated four fundamental rights. Claims are against two rights under the 5th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection. After all, youth, as the youngest generation, will suffer more harm from climate disruption than the older generations they will outlive.

Youth are also claiming a fundamental right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system under the 9th Amendment and, separately, as beneficiaries under the Public Trust Doctrine.

If a court affirms any of these four claims, it would set legal precedent – and give rise to new legal protections for youth and other people, and for Earth’s atmosphere and climate system.

In several state climate cases, lower courts have already affirmed that the atmosphere and climate system are public trust resources and that the state has a duty to protect these resources under the Public Trust Doctrine (Alaska, New Mexico, Washington). Washington also ruled that youth have a fundamental right to a healthy, pleasant environment.

Further, a Colorado appeals court found that the state has a duty to protect public health and the environment over oil and gas development.

In 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Court handed youth plaintiffs a victory and ordered annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The Governor complied and issued an Executive Order for a climate recovery plan.

These courageous actions by youth set the framework for this 4-part lesson unit to explore the U.S. judicial system; legal concepts like standing, protected class, and the Public Trust Doctrine; how the court recognizes new fundamental rights – and how youth might engage in local climate recovery actions to support their peers.

Previous skills needed

Core Vocabulary

  • complaint: a document that starts a civil lawsuit and is filed by a person who claims to have suffered harm by the actions of another person
  • decision: a conclusion reached by a judge or jury after an evaluation of evidence
  • defendant: in a lawsuit, a person accused of causing the harm
  • plaintiff: in a lawsuit, a person who claims to have suffered harm caused by actions of another person
  • remedy: in a trial, the actions by a court of law to fix or make up for wrongful harm to the plaintiffs
  • standing: ability of a person to bring a lawsuit before a court to obtain judicial remedy or relief
  • trial: the judicial process of examining and determining facts and legal issues between parties in a civil or criminal lawsuit

Support Vocabulary

  • appeal: when a case is brought before a higher court to review a lower court’s decision beneficiaries under public trust doctrine: in a democratic society, citizens; present and future generations
  • Commonwealth: another name for some states
  • dismiss: a ruling by a judge to throw out all or part of a plaintiff’s case
  • Executive Order: A presidential policy directive that interprets or puts into effect a federal law, constitutional requirement, or treaty
  • infringe: violate
  • intervenor: a person that the court allows to join an ongoing lawsuit when the decision in the case may affect that person’s rights or property
  • jury: in a trial, a group of people who are selected and sworn to investigate matters of fact and to reach a decision or verdict
  • lawsuit: a legal case filed by one person against another and to be decided in a court of law
  • party: any person involved in a legal case; for example, plaintiffs, defendants, and intervenors are parties in a lawsuit
  • petition: a written application from a person to a governing body or public official to ask for relief
  • posterity: future generations of people
  • precedent: a legal ruling that sets a new standard for future cases
  • private property: property owned by private persons or entities
  • procedural due process: prohibits the government from depriving individuals of legally
  • protected interests without first giving them notice and an opportunity to be heard
  • protected class: a group of people with a common characteristic who are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of that characteristic
  • public property: property owned by the government or held in trust by the government for the people
  • public trust doctrine: the principle that certain natural and cultural resources critical for survival are held in trust by governments, and that it is the duty of governments to protect and maintain these resources for the survival and benefit of present and future generations
  • remand: send back
  • rule-making: a process used by the executive branch to create or change rules or to put rules into effect substantive due process: prohibits the government from infringing on fundamental constitutional liberties
  • trust relationship: a special relationship that establishes a duty on Trustees to act for the care and benefit of Trust beneficiaries
  • trustees of public trust doctrine: in a democratic society, elected representatives in Congress and state legislatures
In Advance

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Post online Vocabulary and Resources

Suggested class sessions
1. Intro and pre-trial activities
2. Trial activities
3. Decisions and remedies
4. Game-changing state cases

Sesson 1: Intro and pre-trial activities
Review PowerPoint notes and slides 1–11, including teaching guides for activities and vocabulary

  • Post online assignment reminder
  • Arrange tables into 6 groups and place at table groups:
  • Open space for role-play Activity

Session 2: Trial Activities

Session 3: Decisions and remedies

Session 4: Game-changing state cases

Game Changer Game Board
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Materials needed

All sessions:

Session 1: Intro and pre-trial activities

Session 2: Trial activities

Session 3: Decisions and remedies

Session 4: Game-changing state cases

  • PowerPoint notes and slides 38-53
  • 18 double-sided copies of “Vocabulary" for Lesson 6
  • 18 single-sided copies of activity, “Exploring Legal Strategies”
  • 1 single-sided color copy of activity, 5-state set of “Board game cards”
  • 5 small envelopes for game card sets and 5 3x5-inch color index cards
    • Label 1 envelope for each state: Alaska, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Washington
  • Create game sets
    • Separate game card sheets by state (gray graphic on cards)
    • Cut each sheet apart separately and remove any extra (blank) game cards
    • Place remaining game cards and 1 color index card into appropriate envelope
  • 5 sheets of paper 25 by 36 inches
  • Slide 52: Brower Youth Award film: Anne Lee, 2017
  • Exit ticket: 1 single-sided copy per student of activity, “Our Rights, Our Future”

    • Create 5 Game Changer game boards as shown in diagram below

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Time Exercise Description
50 minutes Intro and pre-trial activities
50 minutes Trial activities
50 minutes Decisions and remedies
50 minutes Game-changing state cases
Implementation

1. Ultimate Civics! Cover Slide
Everyone has a story.

Suggested instruction for teacher

  • Add your 1-minute story to set this lesson on organization and structure of civil lawsuits and the court system, and how people use our rights to defend what you love.

2. Youth and system change
Youth are often the catalysts for social change. The latest spark in the climate movement is 16-year old Greta Thunberg from Sweden.

In August 2018, Greta started a school strike for climate action every Friday by sitting outside the Swedish Parliament —by herself.

Eight months later, on Friday March 15, over a million youth in some 2,000 cities in over 125 countries left schools and took to the streets to rally people and politicians for climate action.

3. Why the judiciary?

In the U.S., youth are targeting the judiciary instead of the government for their climate action—not only nationally, but in all 50 states. Youth claim the court is a last resort for climate justice for the youngest generation.

In the federal case, youth claim that for over 50 years congresses and presidents knew of the danger—that carbon dioxide, produced from burning fossil fuels, would build up in the atmosphere and destabilize the climate system.

Despite the known danger, governments have knowingly allowed atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to increase to levels that endanger present and future generations.

Youth are asking the judiciary—in federal and state courts—to recognize their rights to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system. Youth want courts to order the other two branches of government to create and enact adequate climate protections now.

These constitutional rights cases are game changers, because affirmative action by a court could create new law and social change.

4. Essential Questions
We will explore the elements of a civil lawsuit and learn how cases proceed through the court system—using real examples from the youth-driven, landmark, climate cases.

Our essential questions for these first two lesson are:

  • Why do people seek judicial relief?
  • What is legal “standing” and why is it important?
  • What is a protected class and how is it determined?
  • How are new fundamental rights recognized?
  • What are the basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine?

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5. Climate youth & their team
Meet the 21 youth who are challenging the federal government over its failure to protect the climate for their generation. These youth were between 8 and 18 years old when their case was filed in federal court in 2015.

These youth are all “plaintiffs.” Plaintiffs are persons who claim to have suffered harm caused by the actions of another person.

The persons accused of causing the harm are the “defendants.” These are the key players in a lawsuit.

Core vocabulary for this lesson is under “parties to a court case” and “elements of a court case.”

Legal cases or lawsuits are named after the first plaintiff and first defendant listed in the documents filed with the court.

The youth climate case is called “Juliana v. U.S.” after youth plaintiff Kelsey Juliana – here (point out on slide) – and the defendant, the United States government.

These youth plaintiffs are supported by Our Children’s Trust, a small nonprofit organization in Eugene, Oregon. Julia Olson, a young mother and lawyer, directs Our Children’s Trust and is the lead lawyer in the federal youth climate case.

Julia is also coordinating youth-driven legal actions in all 50 states and in 12 countries.

6. Trial Map
Most people are familiar with trial scenes in TV shows and movies where lawyers for the plaintiffs and defendants present their evidence and argue their case before a judge and sometimes a jury in a court of law.

But actually important parts of a lawsuit happen before trial and after trial.

Look at the 5 elements of a trial in the Core Vocab. If trial happens third:

  • What happens before trial and after trial?
  • What happens first? Last?

Instructions

  • Work with a partner and decide.
  • Allow about 2 minutes for this exercise.

Class Discussion
Go in order and ask students to explain their answer.

  • First: Plaintiffs have to file a complaint to start the process.
  • Second: Court decides standing. If plaintiffs don’t receive standing, there is no trial.
  • Third: Court decides whether or not plaintiffs suffered harm.
  • Fourth: Court decides the appropriate remedy or relief for the harm, if any.

After discussion show answers

7. Pre-trial activities
Not all cases make it to trial. For a case to be accepted by a court of law, the plaintiffs must meet three requirements for “standing” – the ability to bring a case before a court.

The judge decides which cases will go on trial. The three requirements are:

  • that plaintiffs have suffered personal harm or injury;
  • that the harm was caused by defendants’ actions; and
  • that the court can provide a remedy to fix the harm.

Only the cases that meet the standing requirements may proceed to trial.

8. Statement of standing
We’re going to do a role-play exercise to learn how the youth plaintiffs declared standing.

Everyone has “Statement of standing” for one of these 8 plaintiffs.

  • The statements were adapted from the complaint filed in Juliana v. U.S.
  • The paragraph numbers match those in the primary source.

Instructions for role-play activity

  • Prepare a statement to share
    • Read your plaintiff’s statement.
    • Find at least 4 things that your plaintiff values and the cause of harm claimed from the defendants’ actions. Write them in the space below the statement.
    • For example, Jayden’s home was damaged from more and more severe storms, associated with climate change.
    • You have 5 minutes to do this.
  • Share your statement with others

    • Now find another plaintiff and take turns sharing your statements.
    • Allow about 4–5 minutes for each round.
    • When you hear this sound – demonstrate, move and find a different plaintiff.
    • Conduct 2 rounds of role play with different partners.
    • After the last round, finish with your partner and return to your seat.
  • Conduct excercise

    • Ask students to take their seats

Class discussion guide
To guide discussion, instructor might review definitions for 4 types of wealth from Lesson 2, especially if this lesson was not shared with the class.

  • What are examples of economic wealth and claims of harm? (property or home devalued or lost from violent storms and rising seas, relocation of drought or forest fires, loss of food crops, lost jobs from ski resorts with shortened season)
  • What are examples of environmental wealth and claims of harm? (Extended droughts, more frequent and intense forest fires, dying fish from rising temps, coral loss from ocean acidification, melting or disappearing snowpack)
  • What are examples of social wealth and claims of harm? (increased asthma and respiratory problems from burning forests and increased pollen, limited opportunities for recreation outdoors, because of hot weather (summer) or snow loss (winter), reduced access to and enjoyment of outdoor activities or cultural activities)
  • What are examples of political wealth and claims of harm? (_5th Amendment protection of right to life, liberty, and property from harm to physical and mental health, 5th Amendment right to life, liberty, and property from loss of water and food security _)
  • Does the personal harm claimed have to have a financial value? (No, it just has to contribute to overall wellbeing like pleasure gained from hiking in forest or the ability to breathe without difficulty.)
  • Do you have to own the thing that you claim was harmed? (No, it can be swimming in the sea or the liberty to enjoy your way of life.)
  • Does the harm have to have been caused or partially caused by the defendants’ actions? (Yes)
    • Reflect a minute on what activities and things you enjoy. Do you have anything in common with the plaintiffs?
  • Turn to a partner and share.
  • Allow about 2 minutes.
    • Ask class: Raise your hand if you found something in common with the youth plaintiffs.
    • Ask class to look around. [Most people will have their hands raised.]
    • Allow any discussion.

The point is: the outcome of the youth's case will affect us all.

9. 2015-2016 Youth standing was challenged
In an effort to have the court “dismiss” – throw out – the youth climate case, the U.S. government challenged the youth plaintiffs’ standing.

At first, over six hundred and fifty (650) of the nation’s largest oil and gas companies and manufacturers joined the federal government as intervenors.

The U.S. District Court decided that the youth plaintiffs’ case met requirements for standing

10. 2017-2019 Federal government stalls trial

When the Trump Administration took office in January 2017, things changed. The oil and gas intervenors dropped out of the case and, over two years, the federal government asked the higher courts five times to order the district court to drop the youths’ case.

On December 26, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court granted the government’s fifth request to bring an “interlocutory appeal”—before trial and consideration of evidence. The hearing is scheduled to start for June 4, 2019.

In response, the youth plaintiffs requested a preliminary “injunction” from the Ninth Circuit, a court order to prevent the federal government from engaging in new fossil fuel activities while the youths’ case is heard in court.

If granted, the injunction would stop the federal government from:

  • issuing new permits for coal mining on federal land
  • issuing new leases for offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction, and
  • approving new fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines, refineries, and more.

In February 2019, Zero Hour filed a Young People’s “amicus” or “friend of the court” brief with over 32,000 signatures of youth in support of the youth plaintiffs.

For updates, check www.ourchildrenstrust.org.

11. Ultimate Civics! Cover Slide
Completions of pre-trial activities and suggested stopping point for class. Next: Trial activities

The reading for our next class is posted online under Session 2. It gives profiles on some of the youth plaintiffs and perspectives on the constitutional rights claims in Juliana v. U.S.

12. Essential questions
Let’s review our essential questions for these first two lessons.

  • Why do people seek judicial relief?
  • What is legal “standing” and why is it important?
  • What is a protected class and how is it determined?
  • How are new fundamental rights recognized?
  • What are the basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine?

13. Trial map: Claim 4 legal rights violated

In Juliana v. U.S., youth are claiming harm to four legal rights. We will explore each claim separately like the judge and jury will do during trial.

Youth plaintiffs are claiming two rights under the 5th Amendment protections of due process and equal protection. Youth plaintiffs are claiming a third right – a fundamental right to be sustained by a stable climate system – under the 9th Amendment. The fourth right claimed by youth plaintiffs is the right to be sustained by a stable climate system under something called the Public Trust Doctrine.

During trial, defendants will argue against each of these four claims. The judge or jury will decide each claim separately and the appropriate remedy for each claim. The decisions and remedies may be separately appealed, but in the end, there will be final decisions. A victory to youth on any of these four claims would set new legal precedent – a whole new body of law for a stable climate system.

Now let’s explore each claim.

14. Due process & equal protection
Let’s look at the 5th Amendment and see if we can find the rights that were harmed.

Instructions
5th Amendment Inquiry

  • At your table, find in the 5th Amendment, the rights of due process and equal protection.
  • What did you find?
    • Likely: “No person… shall be deprived of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law.”
    • But: not anything about equal protection.

The Bill of Rights limits the power of the federal government. After the Civil War, the 14th Amendment extended the 5th Amendment rights – and most others – to limit the power of state governments as well.

14th Amendment Inquiry

  • At your table, find in the 14th Amendment, the rights of due process and equal protection. Look in Section 1 near the end.
  • What did you find?
    • “Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, and property, without due process of law.”
    • And: “… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment was recognized by federal courts during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and became part of our 5th Amendment protections under the Bill of Rights.

Youth plaintiffs claim their 5th Amendment right to equal protection has been infringed, because youth, as the youngest generation, will suffer more harm from climate disruption than the older generations they will outlive.

15. Protected class for a youth
When the Juliana complaint was filed, it included a claim to establish youth as a “protected class” under the 5th Amendment claims of due process and equal protection.

In U.S. anti-discrimination law, a protected class is a group of people:

  • who are linked by some kind of defining characteristic
  • who have been historically discriminated against based on this characteristic.

For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 recognized race, color, gender, religion, and national origin as protected classes. A higher standard of legal review is used when plaintiffs claim government actions discriminated against them as a protected class. Establishing a protected class would lead to a new body of anti-discrimination law for youth.

However, youths’ claim for a new fundamental right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate is the driving argument in this case.

Since a fundamental right applies to all people, regardless of defining characteristics, the protected class claim became moot and was dropped.

16. What amendment gives people a right to propose other rights?
The key issue to be addressed at trial is whether people – including youth – have a constitutional right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system. This constitutional right would be a new a fundamental right.

  • What amendment gives people a right to propose rights not listed in the Constitution? (The 9th Amendment)

Instructions

  • Turn to the 9th Amendment in the Bill of Rights of the Constitution.
  • Turn to a partner and translate in your own words. Use the back of an Activity sheet to write it out.
  • Allow about 2 minutes.
  • Ask students to share their interpretations.

17. Establishing a fundamental right
For a right to become a fundamental right, a judge must decide that the right is either:

  1. deeply rooted in our nation’s history or tradition
  2. fundamental to our order of society.

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In Obergefell v. Hodges, the Court decided that marriage is “the foundation of the family in our social order” and that “marriage is a keystone of our social order.”

18. Fundamental right: Stable climate system?
Youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S. claim their 5th Amendment rights to life, liberty and property were violated. Youth plaintiffs claim that their 5th Amendment rights cannot be secured without a new fundamental right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system. The court said, if granted, this new fundamental right would be part of the 5th Amendment due process protection.

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19. Preamble to U.S. Constitution
Let’s consider the youth plaintiffs’ claim as we reflect upon the Preamble to the Constitution. Let’s turn to the Preamble. The Preamble is the very first paragraph and it sets out the goals of the Constitution.

Instructions

  • Read the Preamble in partner teams.
  • Identify the 6 goals set forth in the Preamble.
  • Identify the 2 types of persons protected under the Constitution.

Class discussion guide

  • Who is protected by the Constitution? (present generations: “We the People…”, “… ourselves and our Posterity” – present and future generations)
  • What are the 6 goals of the Constitution? (form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, secure the Blessings of Liberty…)
  • What’s another word for “Welfare”? (wellbeing; all forms of wealth, combined)
  • What is the definition of “Liberty”? (freedom from government oppression; liberty refers to our protected freedoms, our constitutional rights)
  • Which of the goals in the Preamble help form and maintain an ordered society? (all of them)
  • Who is protected under the Constitution? (present generation: "We the People", present and future generations: "...ourselves and our Prosperity")

20. Jury Ballot – New right?
Let’s focus on these four goals. We will consider if each can be secured without a stable climate system. Discuss in terms of values and use examples from the standing activity. For example, justice is about fairness. Are areas most at risk from climate instability evenly distributed across class and race?

Now it’s your turn to be the Jury.

Instructions

  • You have 4 Jury Ballots per table group.
  • Discuss and vote on each question at your tables.
  • Be prepared to share your answers in about 5 minutes.
  • Consider reading platintiff Jayden's eyewitness account of the heavy flooding in August 2016 in southern Louisiana either before or after the discussion. See story below.

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Class discussion guide

  • Discuss each question.
  • Then tally and record the votes on the white board.

  • Justice

    • property damage from flooding from sea level rise, storm surges, or more intense storms
    • health damaged or at risk from smoke from burning forests or by oil spills
    • forced relocation because of water shortages from extended droughts or sea level rise or forest fires
    • changes to way of life or culture from harm to land, ocean, wildlife,
    • changes in food security from inability to grow food
  • Domestic Tranquility

    • sense of security in home or community
    • sense of wellbeing for individual or extended family members
  • General Welfare

    • Unstable climate system creates superstorms, extended drought, water shortages, large-scale forest fires, ocean acidification, and more, which all harm general wellbeing.
  • Blessings of Liberty

    • Unstable climate system threatens life, liberty, and property; due process; and equal protection.
  • Final question

    • Finish the last question on the white board as a class. (Did we answer no to any of these questions? If so then, the answer to the last question is yes. Check the appropriate box.)

If the students voted “no” to any of these questions, then the “jury” recognized the fundamental right to a stable climate system under the 9th Amendment. The jury or judge may use similar logic flow to answer the critical last question. If the Court affirms a constitutional right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system, a new body of law would be created to protect this right.

21. What do you own?

Class discussion guide

  • Consider this:
    • What do you own? What do you think of as your property? (Students usually list private property.)
    • Now take a breath of air. Did you have to pay anyone for that? (No)

This is an example of public property. You own part of every national forest, state park, public museum, and more. For example, you own part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee), the giant Sequoia National Forest (California), Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona), Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho), and the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico). As a U.S. citizen, you own part of every wild thing in this country that flies, swims, crawls, or runs—the bears, orcas, sandhill cranes, monarch butterflies, and more.

When you swim in the ocean, walk on a public beach, or boat on a river, you don’t pay anyone, because these are other examples of public property. When oil companies spill oil and kill sea turtles and dolphins, fish and sea otters, pelicans, and more, the company must pay a fine to the federal government on behalf of the public. That’s because you own part of all the wildlife under common law.

Common law comes from English law that developed over time from customs and court decisions. Common law is different statutory law—written law passed by a legislative body. As a citizen, you have rights under common law. The Public Trust Doctrine is one example of common law. The core vocabulary for this lesson is under the Public Trust Doctrine.

22. Legal Strategies
The climate youth are bringing a fourth claim under the Public Trust Doctrine. Here’s why. Under “statutory law” or “administrative law,” people challenge one law or rule. (Statutory law deals with written laws passed by a legislature, and administrative law deals with the rules and policies written by government agencies.) For example, people might bring an administrative challenge against a single facility that is polluting the air, in violation of its operating permit.

But what about when emissions from all the law-abiding facilities adds up to too much pollution and endangers public health and welfare? Under common law, people may challenge the whole system of laws and permits. The climate youth are doing just that under common law known as the Public Trust Doctrine. By the way, our freedom of speech is a fundamental common law right.

23. Origin of the Public Trust Doctrine
The Public Trust Doctrine derives from Roman law in 533 A.D.: “By the law of Nature … the air, the running water, the sea, and consequently the shores of the sea … are common to mankind.” 533 A.D. was almost 1,500 years ago!

  • What do you think "running water" meant back then? (Natural fresh water bodies like a river or lake.)

The common law was carried forward from ancient Roman law into early English law, and from there into modern law of all democratic countries, including the United States.

24. Trust relationships
The common ownership of public property evolved into a “trust relationship” between democratic governments and citizens. A trust relationship is a legal arrangement in which one party takes care of property for the benefit of another party. The party that has the duty of care is the “trustee”. The party that benefits from the duty of care is the “beneficiary”. These are all core vocab.

Private trusts manage privately-held financial resources like money and private property. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, certain public resources are managed by trustees, the government; specifically, the legislature. The beneficiaries are present and future generations.

25. Intergenerational key
The Public Trust Doctrine is key to intergenerational equity, justice, and sovereignty. Under the Public Trust Doctrine, a sovereign cannot deprive a future sovereign or future government of the natural resources needed to provide for the survival and well-being of its citizens. The “trust relationship” limits a government’s ability to privatize natural resources. No legitimate democratic government can renounce this duty. One federal court described the public trust duty as a forever relationship.

“The trust can only be held by the sovereign and can only be destroyed by destruction of the sovereign.” (U.S. District Court, Massachusetts)

26. Concepts under the Public Trust Doctrine
Under the Public Trust Doctrine:

  • Certain natural and cultural resources are held in trust by sovereign governments.

The word “certain” here means those resources that are essential to survival of humankind. This is different than public property like man-made parks and museums. “Held in trust” means the government has a “trust relationship” on behalf of the people; – a firm duty that it cannot abrogate or ignore or repeal.

  • It is the duty of governments to protect and maintain these resources for the survival and benefit of present and future generations.

“… protect and maintain…” means resources may be used by the present generation, but not used up – or so badly damaged or polluted that the resources do not benefit future generations.

"...present and future generations” means the government can’t give one generation more than its fair share or advantage the present generation at the expense of future generations."

Instructions

  • Turn to a partner. Explain the Public Trust Doctrine to each other in your own words. Use your vocab sheet if needed.
  • Allow about 4 minutes.

Class discussion

  • Clarify any confusing points about the Public Trust Doctrine.
  • Identify any lines of inquiry that students may wish to pursue.

27. 'Golden eggs' of the Public Trust Doctrine
Over time, federal and state courts have recognized certain natural and cultural wealth as public trust resources. Here are some examples.

  • Navigable waters was recognized by federal court in 1821. (Navigable waters are waters that provide a channel for commerce and transportation of people and goods.
    • Ask: What are examples of navigable waters? After a brief class discussion, show examples (river barge in the Mississippi River, street canals of Venice, waters ports transport people, ocean).
  • Submerged lands, by federal court in 1892.
    • “Submerged land” is soil lying beneath water or on the oceanside of tidelands. This includes the Outer Continental Shelf lands and the oil and minerals under it. Offshore oil and gas drilling occur on submerged lands. If not done carefully, oil spills can harm other public trust resources like fish and wildlife and enjoyment of these resources by beneficiaries.
  • Wildlife by Connecticut in 1896
  • All public natural resources under the Hawaii Constitution
  • Wetlands by Wisconsin in 1972
    • Wetlands are marshes, swamps, and estuaries where water covers soil or is near the surface. It also includes the Arctic tundra- more "wet" now with melting permafrost.
  • All waters by Montana in 1987
  • Tidelands by Mississippi in 1988
    Groundwater by Hawaii in 2000
    • Groundwater is water found underground. The nation’s largest pool of groundwater is the Ogallala Aquifer. It underlies parts of 8 states and is the sole source of water in most of the western plains.
  • Instream flow by Montana in 2002 (for fish and aquatic habitat and human use like hydropower, irrigation, recreation, and drinking)
  • Air and atmosphere by Texas in 2012

In federal and state courts, youth are claiming a right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system as beneficiaries under the Public Trust Doctrine.

Youth claim that the government has failed to fulfill its public trust duty by not protecting and maintaining a stable climate system for the survival and benefit of present and future generations.

28. Know your rights!
Now it’s your turn to decide your rights. Here is a list of public property. Some things on this list are critical to survival of humankind. These are, or should be, public trust resources.

Class discussion guide
Go through list together, calling out each resource, and asking for groups to answer.

  • Are public schools critical to survival of humankind? (No.)
  • National forests? (Yes, most federal public land in the United States is held in trust for the people by the federal government.)
  • Air we breathe? (Yes, this dates back to Roman law.)
  • Public library? (No.)
  • Ocean (Yes, this dates back to Roman law.)
    • Did you know that 50–85 percent of oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere is produced by tiny marine plants called phytoplankton? The rest is produced by land-based plants.
  • Public zoo? (No.)
  • Running water? (Yes, this dates back to Roman law.)
  • Atmosphere? (Consider that the air is part of the atmosphere, consider that no other planet in the known universe has an atmosphere that supports life, this will be argued in court.)
  • Ocean shores? (Yes, this dates back to Roman law.)
  • Wildlife? (Yes, this dates back to Roman law.)
  • Public museum? (No.)
  • Stable climate system? (Yes, this is critical for our survival and our order of society. Earth’s climate system supports life. We’ve yet to find another planet that does. This will be argued in court.)
  • State Park? (No.)

29. Ultimate Civics! Cover Slide
Completion of trial arguments and suggested stopping point for class. Next: Decisions and remedies.

The reading for our next class is posted online under Session 3. It’s the proposed resolution for the New Green Deal, which is the framework for our next activity.

Instructions

  • Hand out exit tickets “Our Rights, Our Duty.”
  • Allow about 10 minutes for students to complete exercises.
  • If time allows, ask students to share “take-aways,” either with a partner or as a class.
  • Collect as students exit.

Find Exit Ticket guide in the assess tab.

30. Essential Questions
Our essential questions for these last two lessons are:

  • In a constitutional rights case, what are examples of remedies for harms?
  • In the youth climate case, what are specific examples of remedies for harm?
  • What makes a civil case a “landmark” case?
  • How is the court system organized?
  • How do civil cases proceed through the court system?

31. Remedies in constitutional rights cases
Judicial remedies in constitutional rights cases—including Public Trust Doctrine cases—consist of:

  • "declaratory relief” to establish rights and duties of the parties;
  • "injunction relief” to compel a party to do or stop doing specific acts; and
  • an order to implement a plan for constitutional compliance.

These are core vocab under "Court system."

32. New constitutional right: Affirmed
Let’s say the Court affirms the youth claim that their 5th Amendment rights to life, liberty, and property are being harmed, and these rights cannot be secured without a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system.

In considering judicial relief, the Court would have to first establish a finding of harm to a constitution right—a statement about what was violated. Like this—

  • Declare that the 5th Amendment due process right of the youth plaintiffs to life, liberty, and property has been violated.

Then the Court could recognize a new right to address the harm. Like this-

  • Declare a new constitutional right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system as part of due process under the 5th Amendment.

The Court could order a plan for constitutional compliance. Like this—

  • Order the federal government to create and implement a climate recovery plan.

And the Court could order an injunction to stop certain activities causing harm until the compliance plans are in place. Like this—

  • Order the government to stop new fossil fuel activities and new infrastructure until the climate recovery plan is in place.

The court-ordered injunction could prevent the federal government from issuing new permits for coal mining on federal land, new leases for offshore oil and gas exploration and extraction, and approvals for new fossil fuel infrastructure—similar to the preliminary injunction filed by youth plaintiffs with the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court in February 2019.

33. Harm of equal protection: Affirmed
Let’s say the Court affirms the youth claim that their 5th Amendment right to equal protection under law was violated by actions of the defendants. What might judicial relief include?

Instructions

  • Discuss possible remedies at your tables.
  • Model after the remedies for due process.
  • Be ready to share.

Discussion guide
First remedy has to be a finding or declaration of harm. There might be two possible remedies to address harm—one to create a plan for constitutional compliance, and one to make amends to the youngest generation and future generations. Another remedy could be an injunction against the federal government to stop certain activities causing harm until constitutional compliance plans are in place.

  • A declaration that the 5th Amendment right of the youngest generation to equal protection was harmed.
  • An order to the federal government to create and implement a climate recovery plan for constitutional compliance.
  • An order to require a reparation plan for youth and future generations
  • An order to stop to new fossil fuel activities and new infrastructure until the plans are in place.

34. New public trust resources: Affirmed
Last one. Let’s say the Court affirms the youth claim that a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system are public trust resources, because they are critical for human survival. What might judicial relief include?

Instructions

  • Discuss possible remedies at your table
  • Be ready to share.

Discussion guide
First remedies have to be a finding (declaration) of a new resource under the Public Trust Doctrine, followed by a declaration of government duties and rights of beneficiaries. A court order is probably needed to create a climate recovery plan for constitutional compliance and protection of trust resources. Another remedy could be an injunction against the federal government to stop certain activities causing harm until compliance plans are in place.

  • A declaration that a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system are public trust resources.
  • A declaration that the government has a duty to protect and maintain a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system for present and future generations.
  • An order to require a climate recovery plan for constitutional compliance.
  • And, an injunction to stop to new fossil fuel activities and new infrastructure until a climate recovery plan is in place.

35. Remedy: Climate recovery plan
Sophie is one of the youth plaintiffs. Dr. James Hansen is her grandfather. He’s also one of the world’s leading climate scientists and the former director of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). Dr. Hansen and most climate scientists maintain that, since the industrial revolution, human activities have caused an increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from 280 parts per million (ppm) to over 400 ppm. The excess carbon dioxide is heating the atmosphere, destabilizing the climate system, melting ice caps, and causing ocean acidification.

Dr. Hansen warns that the last time the Earth was this hot, the ocean was about 20 feet higher than it is today, because of melting polar ice caps and glaciers. Dr. Hansen and other climate scientists tell us that the maximum safe concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 350 ppm- and we should aim lower for 280 ppm. We could reduce the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide by:

  • Reducing activities that promote, use and burn fossil fuels, and
  • Increasing activities that transition to green safe energies like solar and wind power, and activities that are proven to sequester carbon like planting trees.

Based on advice of Dr. Hansen and other experts, the youth plaintiffs are asking the court for a science-based climate recovery plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, store carbon, and shift to renewable energies. The goal is to return our climate to a stable state by returning atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to under 350 ppm by the end of the century.

36. Global youth demand more
Globally, youth are demanding more aggressive goals. For example, the Sunrise Movement’s New Green Deal set a goal of global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from human sources of 40–60 percent from 2010 levels by 2030. The Sunrise Movement has a goal of net zero global emissions by 2050. The Sunrise Movement also targets the institutionalized system of colonialism, racism, sexism, wealth inequity, and empire-builders that support the fossil fuel dependency.

Climate change, pollution, and environmental destruction from fossil fuel use have worsened systemic injustices across the environment, economy, society, health care, and more. These systemic injustices disproportionately affected front line and vulnerable communities. The Sunrise Movement is transforming the transition off fossil fuels into an opportunity to address and remedy these systemic injustices through a fair and just transition—a massive mobilization across the nation over the next 10 years.

37. A fair and just transition
Now we're going to see if we ca put the science and ethical policy together. Let's start with some government data on greenhouse gas emissions and offsets.

According to EPA, sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. in 2015 included:

  • electricity: 29% of emissions, mostly from burning fossil fuels like coal to generate power
  • transportation: 27% of emissions, mostly from burning oil and natural gas
  • industry: 21% of emissions, mostly from burning fuel and making products
  • homes and businesses: 12% of emissions, mostly from burning fuel, product off-gassing, and handling waste
  • agriculture: 9% of emissions, mostly from burning fuel, using chemicals like fertilizers, rice production, and cows.

Also according to EPA, 12% of U.S. emissions are offset by our forests and land use practices. Trees and healthy soils absorb and store carbon.

Let’s add in the ethical policy—the New Green Deal—and use these sources of greenhouse gas emissions and offsets as our 6 issues for our activity. Our question is: How does the New Green Deal address each issue in ways that create real wealth?

Instructions

  • Everyone takes an activity sheet, “A fair and just transition.” What might be some activities to increase offsets of GHG emissions?
  • It repeats the question and defines “real wealth” as social, economic, environmental and political equity and justice, creating an authentic democracy.

Teacher assigns an issue to each table and instructs students to write their group issue at the top of their activity sheet. The mobilization strategies from the Resolved section (2) of the New Green Deal resolution are summarized in the left column. Show where (A) starts on page 6, line 13.

  • Find mobilization strategies that might apply to your issue and check the box—like for (A), which applies to all issues.
    • For (M), list things that might be missing from your issue or the overall strategy.

Once students are clear on the ask of them:

  • They have 15 minutes to research and discuss their issue.
  • Be prepared to share your findings.

During discussion, students might have more inclusive answers than the Guide—along with an explanation.

alt text

Some examples are provided on the activity sheet. Students could find others in sources like YES! Magazine. Students could choose (or be assigned) topics, and then research and explain their findings during a class period.

38. Ultimate Civics! Cover Slide
Completion of decisions and remedies and suggested stopping point for class. Next: Game-changing state cases

The reading for our next class is posted online under Session 4. It’s about court systems and the youth cases.

39. Essential questions
Let’s review our essential questions for these last two lessons.

  • In a constitutional rights case, what are examples of remedies for harms?
  • In the youth climate case, what are specific examples of remedies for harm?
  • What makes a civil case a “landmark” case?
  • How is the court system organized at the federal and state levels?
  • How do civil cases proceed through the court system?

40. Court system: Federal
So far, we’ve been talking about what happens in court. Now let’s look at how civil lawsuits proceed through the court system.

Federal civil lawsuits are filed in a “trial court,” called a "district court.” This is where evidence and testimony are first introduced and considered, and where findings of fact and law are made. It’s where the trial happens. Core vocab for this lesson is under “Court system.”

Under the 7th Amendment, facts tried by a jury may not be appealed to higher courts, according to the rules of common law. Only findings of law may be appealed to higher courts.

U.S. District Courts are organized into 12 regional circuits, including the D.C. Circuit. The thirteenth circuit is the Federal Circuit. Where a case is filed determines what regional circuit it is in.
For example, Juliana v. U.S. was filed in Eugene, Oregon.

  • Oregon is in what circuit? (Ninth circuit)

Rulings and decisions made by a U.S. District Court judge can be “appealed” to the next highest court, the U.S. Court of Appeals, for review. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is in San Francisco. This is where Juliana v. U.S. goes on appeal. If the appeals court does not agree with a lower court’s ruling, the appeals court has several options. It can affirm or deny a lower court’s decision or “remand“ it (return it) to the lower court for further work.

A remand is like having a teacher review your paper and return it all marked up for more work before a final grade is given. A case can be appealed several times on various legal issues, but eventually the U.S. Appeals Court judge will make a ruling.
For the last time, the decision can be appealed to the highest court, the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC. The U.S. Supreme Court may or may not decide to accept the case, based on whether there are constitutional questions at stake. If the U.S. Supreme Court takes the case, the lawyers argue their case before the Supreme Court Justices in Washington, D.C., and the court’s decision is final. Sometimes in exceptional cases, the U.S. Supreme Court will skip the appeals court and take the case directly from the district court.

As we know in Juliana v. U.S., the government filed five different petitions with either the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court or the U.S. Supreme Court to stall the trial or block the case from going to trial.

41. Legal proceedings in states
So far, we’ve been talking about the youth climate case in federal court. Our Children’s Trust also filed youth-driven legal actions in all 50 states in May 2011. There are two legal strategies. One option is to file a case in state courts, similar to what the youth did in federal court.

State courts are organized the same way as federal courts with cases proceeding from the trial courts to the appeals courts, and then maybe to the state supreme court for cases that raise constitutional questions.

The second option is to petition for an administrative remedy through the state agency responsible for writing rules to control greenhouse gas emissions. Before a court can take a case, the administrative remedy must first be attempted. If the state agency denies the petition, then the youth may use the court as a last resort to remedy the harms claimed.

42. Game Changer: Mapping
To learn how courts deal with complex issues that affect everyone in society, we will play a game called, “Game Changer.”

There is a Game Changer board game on your table. It looks like this (on slide)—exactly what we’ve been talking about, only now it has dates along the bottom. There are three players and three colors: the youth (pink), the state (teal), and the court (purple).

The goals of the game are to:

  1. Map the stories with the game cards.
  2. Identify game-changing court rulings.
  3. Explore legal strategies in 5 states.

Game changer instructions

  • Each table has one envelope with state name and game cards.
  • Open the envelope, take out the game cards, and share them.
  • Look at a game card. Each card has 3 position clues: who, what, and when. When is the clue for the horizontal position along the x-axis—the timeline.
  • Distribute all the game cards along the dates, according to the date on card.
  • Position yourself along the timeline.
  • Take the game cards from on year and read the who part. Who and what are the clues for the vertical position along the y-axis.
  • Read the who and what if needed, to place your game card in its x-y vertical position.
  • If there are multiple cards in one position, arrange in chronological order with oldest date at the bottom.
  • Work together to position all the game cards on the board.

During activity, circulate among the teams to answer questions, as needed. Refer students to support vocab for new words.

  • Once all the cards are in place, read the game cards in chronological order together to learn the story.
  • Identify the game-changing court ruling together, and, slide the color index card under that game card on the game board.
  • As table groups finish, distribute activity sheets, “Exploring Legal Strategies.”

43. Game changer: Exploring guide
Now everyone take an activity sheet, “Exploring Legal Strategies.”

Instructions

  • In your state, write the first 3 legal strategies as actions—case or petition.
  • Write court ruling to deny or affirm each action.
  • Determine the status of the last legal action listed: ongoing, pending, over? And the what: case or petition?
  • When every team is ready, teams explore other states and repeat above activities.
  • Return to your state when done and answer other questions on your activity sheet.
  • Be prepared to share. When teams are ready, proceed.
  • As a team, check your answers with the answers on the slide.
    • Circle any discrepancies. We will work through them during discussion.
    • Click through slowly so teams can follow.

44. Game changer: Exploring

Class discussion guide

  • First Action: In which states did youth start in court? (AK, CO, NM, WA)
  • First Ruling: What was the key ruling in these states? Why? (The cases were denied, because youth plaintiffs had not exhausted the administrative remedies first.)
  • Second Action: What did the youth in these states do next? (Youth petitioned the state agency responsible for the rules governing GHG emissions.)
  • Second Ruling: What was the key ruling in all of these states? (Their petitions were denied.)
  • Why?
    • Youth are asking to change business-as-usual and people resist change, especially transformative (system) change.
    • Further, there is resistance in AK, CO, and NM, because the oil and gas industry provides most of the operating revenue in these states.
    • In WA, the agency felt it was following the law – even though it could make stronger rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions faster.
  • Third Action: What did the youth in these states do after their initial court case and their petition were denied? (Youth went back to court as a last resort after exhausting their administrative remedy.)
  • What did youth in Alaska and Washington do?
    • AK: Youth filed a constitutional rights case against the state.
    • WA: Youth first appealed the state’s decision to deny their petition to the court to overturn it. However, the court invited a constitutional rights case. WA youth then switched strategies and filed a constitutional rights case against the state like in Alaska.
  • What did youth in Colorado do?
    • CO: Youth filed a lawsuit in district court to overturn the state’s decision to deny their petition.
  • What are the legal options for youth in New Mexico at this point?
    • As above, back to court with a constitutional rights-based case either to appeal the state’s decision to deny the petition or to sue the state over violation of rights.

Massachusetts

  • First Action: What did the MA youth do first?
    • Youth petitioned the state agency responsible for the rules governing GHG emissions first.
  • First Ruling: What was the key ruling? Why?
    • Their case was denied, because the agency felt it was following the law – even though it could make stronger rules to reduce GHG emissions faster.
  • Second Action: What did the MA youth do next?
    • After exhausting their prescribed administrative remedies, youth appealed the state’s decision to the court to overturn it, based on their constitutional rights.
  • Second Ruling: What was the key ruling? Why?
    • Their case was denied, because the district court deferred to the state agency and the agency’s science-based decision process.
  • Third Action: What did the youth do next?
    • Youth appealed the lower court’s decision and the Supreme Court took the case.
  • Third Ruling: What was the key ruling?
    • MA Supreme Court decided in the youths’ favor and ordered the state to address multiple sources of GHG emissions, set overall limits, and set limits that decline on an annual basis.
    • Unlike what happened in WA, the MA governor and agencies complied with the order.
  • Was the legal strategy in Massachusetts advantageous? Why or why not?
    • It’s the way things should work, but rarely do because of entrenched attitudes among public officials and the public or because of political influence of oil and gas industry.
    • Also note that the Massachusetts youth saved themselves a couple of years by starting with an administrative remedy.
    • MA youth also built alliance with MA Consumers Energy Alliance. Consumers are voters. The MA court ruling and state compliance were aligned with MA voters’ will.

alt text

Class discussion guide
Student might observe:

  • State agencies always deny petitions for new rules, however, this can serve to strengthen constitutional rights cases.
  • Plaintiffs have to prepare for setbacks.
  • It seems like constitutional rights cases always find their way to the highest court.
  • Massachusetts is the only state so far to decide in favor of youth plaintiffs and to take action.

alt text

45. Game changer: Alaska
Class discussion guide for slides 45–49

  • Each team shares their story with rest of class around their game board – and/or use slides.
  • When presenting, use the format: In when, the who did what.
  • Use state guide to check students’ work.
  • If using slides, after a student reads a game card to show legal action on slide.
  • Interject comments to add to story.
  • Note the game-changing action and discuss why it’s a game changer.
  • Allow about 5 minutes per team.
  • Encourage discussion.

See state guide.

alt text

Comments in Alaska case

2012: Instead of dropping their case after it was dismissed and filing a petition for rulemaking, what did the Alaska youth do? They felt they had a strong constitutional rights case, and they appealed directly to the Alaska Supreme Court for review.

2014: This legal strategy partially paid off. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the state’s constitutional duty to protect the atmosphere – but it awarded no remedy for political reasons. Alaska gets 85 percent of its state revenue from oil taxes.

2017: What’s the legal strategy with petitioning a state agency for a new rule to reduce carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions? It seems these petitions always get denied.
By denying a petition, a state is saying it is already complying with state law. However, the rules are not strict enough to protect youths’ right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate system. The state’s denial provides the basis for a constitutional rights case.

Status as of April 2019: On October 30, 2018, the Alaska district court dismissed the youths’ case. The youth appealed to the Alaska Supreme Court and are waiting for a hearing.

46. Game changer: Colorado
See state guide

Comments in Colorado case

2012-13: Youth did not appeal the District Court’s decision to dismiss their 2011 case, but instead changed legal strategy and filed a petition through the state government. The State has laws to protect public health, the environment, and wildlife, but the state’s rules are not strict enough to enforce the law. People and wildlife are getting sick and water is being polluted from oil and gas activities.

2014: Now the youth have a stronger case. The state laws are based on the Constitution. It’s up to courts to interpret constitutional issues.

2014: Why is the ruling a game changer? Because the District Court is affirming that the state has a legal duty to protect public health, the environment, and the wildlife and that the state must act to fulfill its duty. This could stop harmful and polluting oil and gas activities in Colorado.

2016: Now why did the same District Court that allowed the case to proceed turn around and deny it?
It’s noted in the court proceedings online that a different judge was presiding over the case, So, same court, different judge – and different political perspective. Even though this is supposed to be a matter of law, politics often colors the game board.

2017: Notice two new players have joined the state as intervenors. The intervenors represent the oil and gas industry.

Status as of April 2019: On January 14, 2019, the Colorado Supreme Court reversed the Appeals Court decision, finding that the commission cannot condition oil and gas development on public health, safety, and welfare and the environment. Ten days later, youth filed a motion asking the Colorado Supreme Court to vacate several judicial decisions based on misconduct of a judge who reviewed the case.

47. Game changer: New Mexico
See state guide.

Comments in New Mexico case

2012-13: At first the District Court encouraged youth plaintiffs to amend their case, as a public trust case, and allowed the case to proceed. But then the Court seemed to alter its opinion. What might have happened?
Unlike Colorado’s situation where a different judge took over the case, this time it was the same judge in the same court that denied the case. The judge might have believed there was no remedy the Court could provide.

2017: What do you think the Appeals Court in 2015 suggested that the youth plaintiffs to do?
Since the youth changed legal strategy and petitioned the state for a new rule, it seems the Appeals Court felt the youth would have a stronger constitutional rights case if the youth went this route. By denying the petition, the state is claiming it is already protecting the atmosphere. A denial would provide the basis for a constitutional rights case.

Status as of April 2019: Youth plaintiffs are likely to file a constitutional rights case with the district court since the court.

48. Game changer: Washington
See state guide.

Comments in Washington case

2011-13: What’s going on here, based on what we learned in Colorado, Alaska, and New Mexico about legal grounds for a constitutional rights case?
The Washington youth need to first show the Court that the State is not doing its job. The youth need to petition for a new rule first and have the State deny their petition in order to have the legal basis for a constitutional rights case.

2014-15: The State refused to reconsider its denial. This gives the Court more reason to ensure due process for youth.

2016: The State refused repeatedly to comply with the Court orders, even to the point where the Court called a hearing for the State to explain why it was not in contempt of court – and should not be fined or penalized.
After giving the State plenty of time and reasons to comply, the Court invites a constitutional rights case as part of due process.

Status as of April 2019: On August 14, 2018, the Washington District Court judge dismissed the youths’ case. Unless youth appeal the decision, the case will be over.

49. Game changer: Massachusetts
See state guide.

Comments in Massachusetts case

2012-13: Unlike what happened in the other four states, Massachusetts youth did not file a constitutional rights case first, they petitioned a state agency for a new rule.
When the petition was denied, youth appealed the state’s decision to the court, based on constitutional rights, including rights under the Public Trust Doctrine.

2014-15: When the District Court deferred to the state agency’s judgment – and science – on deciding to dismiss the petition, the youth appealed directly to the state’s Supreme Court.

2016: When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in favor of the youth, the Governor complied with the Court order to create and conduct a comprehensive energy plan – like the law required.
Massachusetts set a fine example for how the court system should step in and afford due process to plaintiffs when the executive branch is failing to meet its duties.

Status as of February 2018: Massachusetts is working on new rules for the energy plan.

50. Reflections

  • If students haven’t already done so, ask each team to share their game-changing ruling.
    • Presentation order: AK, CO, NM, WA, and MA
    • Advance the slide after each state team shares

Instructions

  • On the back of your activity sheet, “Exploring Legal Strategies,” take a few minutes to reflect and write.
    • List 3 “ah-hahs” about the five state stories?
    • What would you like to learn more about?
  • Discuss at your table after about 3 minutes.

Determine if any topics the students might like to learn more about may be good ideas for class extension projects.

51. Game Changer: Contrasting
The state and federal lawsuits are supported by hundreds of youth and are creating opportunities for youth to take local action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Here is why.

One reason is that the Massachusetts victory is about enacting and enforcing a climate recovery plan with annual reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. This affects every citizen and every government office from local to state. Instead of just leaving the details of the plan up to the state, there is an opportunity for schools to engage local government to offer practical ideas and ways to help do their share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The second reason is what happened in Pennsylvania. Let’s look.

Like Massachusetts, youth filed a petition with a state agency. Between 2011 and 2014, PA youth revised their petition three times – and were denied three times. After the third denial, youth plaintiffs changed legal strategies and filed a constitutional rights case, based on the Public Trust Doctrine.

When the trial court and appeals court both dismissed the case, youth appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn these decisions and preserve their rights. However, in 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts’ decisions and dismissed the youths’ case. Pennsylvania receives most of its state revenues from the oil and gas industry.

  • What other strategies might the Pennsylvania youth consider to further their cause?

Instructions

  • Discuss at your tables, then open to class discussion.

Essentially, the youth have the same options as the youth in Massachusetts and every other state. Nothing is holding people back from finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions now. When representative democracy fails, people often turn to street democracy to initiate critical and timely action (as discussed in Lesson 1).

52. What can we do?
Figure out what you want to do first. Then create a game-changing action plan. Consider showing the Brower Youth Award film profiling Anne Lee to inspire students to local action.

53. Ultimate Civics! Cover Slide
Determine if students are ready for a class project or extracurricular activities to follow through in their interest area. By creating and implementing their own action plans, students will learn lifetime skills in civic engagement.

Instructions

  • Hand out exit tickets “Our Rights, Our Future.”
  • Allow about 10 minutes for students to complete exercises.
  • If time allows, ask students to share “take-aways,” either with a partner or as a class.
  • Collect as students exit.

Find exit ticket guide in the assess tab.

Reflection Questions

Essential Questions by Session
Session 1

  • Why do people seek judicial relief?
  • What is legal “standing” and why is it important?

Session 2

  • What is a protected class and how is it determined?
  • How are new fundamental rights recognized?
  • What are the basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine?

Session 3

  • In a constitutional rights case, what are examples of remedies for harms?
  • In the youth climate case, what are specific examples of remedies for harm?

Session 4

  • What makes a civil case a “landmark” case?
  • How is the court system organized at the federal and state levels?
  • How do civil cases proceed through the court system?
Assessment Opportunities

Exit Ticket Guide for Our Rights, Our Duty

1. Why do people seek judicial relief?

  • People use the power of courts when the government has overreached its authority and has caused “repeated injuries and usurpations” of human rights. People turn to the courts as a last resort (after exhausting administrative appeals) to recognize their rights to limit the power of their government and curb tyranny.

2. What is legal “standing” and what are its 3 requirements? Why is standing important?

  • Standing is the ability to bring a case before a court – to take a grievance to trial. The 3 requirements are: (1) that plaintiff has suffered personal injury or harm; (2) that the harm was caused by the defendant’s actions; and (3) that the court can provide a remedy to fix the harm. The judge decides if a complaint meets these requirements.
  • Standing is important, because it allows citizens to exercise their rights in a court of law to hold people, government, and businesses accountable to law and to maintain and operate an authentic democracy.

3. What is a protected class and how is it determined? Give examples.

  • A protected class is a group of people that are protected under U.S. anti-discrimination law and that require a higher standard of legal review by a court when plaintiffs claim discrimination by government actions. Examples include: race, color, gender, religion, and national origin.
  • Judges determine protected class status based on whether people are linked by a defining characteristic and whether people have been
    historically discriminated against based on that characteristic.

4. How are new fundamental rights recognized?

  • For a right to become a fundamental right, persons with standing must bring a valid complaint to court. Then a judge determines if the requested right is either deeply rooted in our nation’s history or fundamental to the order of society.

5. What are the basic principles of the Public Trust Doctrine (PTD)? Give examples of public trust resources.

  • The PTD imposes a duty on government to protect and maintain certain natural resources for the survival and benefit of present and future generations. The PTD establishes a trust relationship, including trustees (government), beneficiaries (the people), and trust property as public property.
  • Examples include the air, the running (fresh) water, the sea, and the shores of the sea.

6. What is your “take-away” from this lesson?

Exit Ticket Guide for Our Rights, Our Future

1. What is a constitutional rights case, and what are examples of remedies for harms?

  • A constitutional rights case is one in which a plaintiff claims harm to specific fundamental rights, either recognized or not. Court remedies would fix the harm either by addressing the government action that caused the harm for recognized rights, or by recognizing new fundamental rights to address the present harm and limit such harms in the future.

2. In the youth climate case, what are specific examples of remedies for harm?

  • In federal and state courts, youth are consistently claiming a new fundamental right to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system. If this right is recognized, either under the 9th Amendment or under the Public Trust Doctrine, then remedies would require a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and activities that burn and release GHGs.

3. Why makes a civil case a “landmark” case? Would you consider Juliana v. U.S. a landmark case? Explain.

  • Landmark cases are constitutional rights cases, as these cases have the potential to establish new fundamental rights.
  • Yes, because it claims new fundamental rights to a healthy atmosphere and a stable climate system under both the 9th Amendment and under the Public Trust Doctrine.

4. How is the court system organized at the federal and state levels?

  • Both the federal and state systems are organized into 3 levels, including the district or trial court, the appeals court, and the supreme court. Federal courts are organized into 12 regional circuit courts and a 13th circuit for the Federal Circuit. State courts are organized by county.

5. How do civil cases proceed through the court system?

  • Civil cases start when plaintiffs file a complaint in the district or trial court. The case is tried on merits or content.
    Decisions may be appealed by either party to the appeals court or even directly to the supreme court. Higher courts may remand (return) cases to lower courts for further consideration. If cases are not dismissed and the plaintiffs prevail, then the court awards a remedy to address the harms brought by the plaintiffs.

6. What is your “take-away” from this lesson?

Standards assessment

Framework for Social Studies State Standards

  • Critique relationships among governments, civil societies, and economic markets in shaping people’s lives. (D2.Civ.6.)
  • Analyze how people use and challenge local, state, and national laws to address a variety of public issues. (D2.Civ.12.)
  • Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related social outcomes. (D2.Civ.13.)
  • Analyze historical, contemporary, and emerging means of changing societies, promoting the common good, and protecting rights. (D2.Civ.14.)