You might, before doing anything else, read this and learn about the way in which the courts have been packed to protect the corporate polluters…



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.


Yes. 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. 


Not so far. In 2023, the Supreme Court declined to hear bids by Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N), Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO), Chevron Corp (CVX.N) and others to move lawsuits filed by state and local governments accusing the oil companies of worsening climate change out of state courts and into federal courts. This was a blow to the oil companies because state courts are typically more favorable to plaintiffs than federal courts, and it forces the oil companies to go to trial. 


In March, 2023, the Biden administration filed a brief in support of local governments in Colorado arguing that the Supreme Court should not step into that state dispute. In response, on April 5, in a filing with the Supreme Court, attorneys for Exxon Mobil Corp. and Suncor Energy Inc. sharply criticized the Biden administration for siding with local governments in their lawsuits against oil majors. 

Despite the companies’ protests, the Supreme Court declined to weigh in on the Colorado case. This decision extended to similar cases in California, Hawaii, and Rhode Island and means that other climate liability lawsuits have a more direct path to trial. The state-level case has yet to be decided.


On September 15, 2023, California sued five big oil companies and the trade group that represents them, alleging decades long deception about the correlation between fossil fuel production and climate change. California’s complaint joined a wave of climate litigation nationwide but could further open the legal floodgates on such action against oil firms. 


The landmark case of Juliana v. US, brought by 21 young people in 2015, 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 dutyThe fight goes on as courts decide whether or not to dismiss the case from federal court on the grounds that it is an overreach of the court’s power. A full and fascinating history of this litigation can be found here.

Youth in Montana took up a similar fight to Juliana vs. US, but on a state level. They won the landmark case when a judge ruled that the state’s failure to consider climate change when approving fossil fuel projects was unconstitutional. It is in appeal.


Just as many of these cases are winding their way through the courts, the makeup of the Supreme Court has changed dramatically. Following the death of renowned Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on September 18, 2020, Trump filled her seat with Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett’s appointment promised to shift the court to the far right for decades to come. 

We saw early results already in 2022, when the Supreme Court ruled against the EPA in the case of West Virginia vs the Environmental Protection Agency

The newest member of the Supreme Court, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, was nominated by President Joe Biden (D) on February 28, 2022, and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 7, 2022.

The Supreme Court ruled against the EPA again in May, 2023, deciding that “the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act extends only over wetlands that have a “continuous surface connection” with a traditional navigable water body of the United States.”

The 2023 rulings to put oil company lawsuits in state courts gives us hope for the future. 

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


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