The Judicial Branch of the federal government is responsible for interpreting and reviewing the country’s laws. The Supreme Court is the most powerful body of the Judicial Branch. About 8,000 cases are filed with the Supreme Court each year, but only about 80 are chosen to be heard and decided by the Court. The Supreme Court is the only court where the Justices make the decision whether or not to hear a case. Most often, a case makes it to the Supreme Court after the plaintiffs involved appeal the ruling of one of the US Courts of Appeal.

There are numerous cases weaving their way through the courts. Exxon Mobil, for example, is facing a wave of lawsuits driven in large part by revelations which began surfacing in 2015.  These revelations indicated that the climate crisis was not the result of blind error, or even willful ignorance, but rather calculated abuses of power.  Exxon had conducted scientific studies that showed the warming effect of carbon emissions and predicted the dire consequences of climate change, before spending millions on misinformation to derail regulation and solidify international dependence on fossil fuels. Massachusetts and New York have both sued Exxon for fraud.

Meanwhile, cities like San Francisco, New York City, Richmond and others have filed suits for damages from climate change against companies like Chevron, BP, Shell, and ConocoPhillips in addition to Exxon. Several high-profile cases challenging the expansion of oil pipelines are also being litigated.

And, then there is the landmark case of Juliana v. US, brought by 21 young people in 2015, which argues that the federal government’s duty to serve as a trustee of resources extends to the atmosphere, and that it had thus failed in that constitutional duty. A full and fascinating history of this litigation can be found here.

Just as many of these cases are winding their way through the courts, the makeup of the highest court in the land has changed dramatically. Following the death of renowned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, 2020, Trump filled her seat with Amy Coney Barrett on September 26th. Barrett promises to shift the court to the far right for decades to come and environmental organizations have already expressed concern that she will be favorable towards fossil fuel companies.

Most recently, on October 2, 2020, the Supreme Court agreed to review a Fourth Circuit ruling that a Baltimore suit — seeking to put energy giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil on the hook for climate related infrastructure damages — belonged in state court.

What Is the Judicial Branch of the U.S. Government? | History





U.S. Climate Change Litigation

Cases in the U.S. database are organized by type of claim and may be filtered by the principal laws they address, their filing years, and their jurisdictions. The database is also searchable by keyword. In…