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…

Judicial

JUDICIAL

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. 

DOES THE SUPREME COURT HEAR EVERY CASE WHICH IS FILED?

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.

HOW DOES A CASE GET TO THE SUPREME COURT?

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.

ARE THERE CASES AGAINST FOSSIL FUEL COMPANIES?

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. 

HAS THE SUPREME COURT AGREED TO HEAR THOSE CASES?

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. 

HAS THE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE WEIGHED IN?

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.

THE LATEST FOSSIL FUEL LAWSUITS WHICH MIGHT FIND THEIR WAY TO THE SUPREME COURT

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. 

WHAT ABOUT JULIANA V. US FILED IN 2015?

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.

THE MAKEUP OF THE COURT

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

CURRENT NEWS

Image By CCR + AI
Highlight Article

Fortune 500 oil giant to pay $4 million for air pollution at New Mexico and Texas facilities

By Minnah Arshad 02/13/24
A Fortune 500 oil and natural gas company will pay $4 million in civil penalties for unlawful air pollution in New Mexico and Texas, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
Read more

Famed climate scientist wins million-dollar verdict against right-wing bloggers

By Dino Grandoni 02/08/24
Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist, won his long-standing legal battle against two right-wing bloggers who claimed that he manipulated data in his research and compared him to convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, a major…
Read more

Red states build legal case against Biden LNG pause

By Pamela King, Carlos Anchondo, Brian Dabbs 02/07/24
Twenty-three Republican-led states are teeing up their legal claims against the Biden administration’s decision to halt overseas shipments of liquefied natural gas.
Read more

House GOP says SEC is overstepping authority, cannot demand climate disclosures

By Lamar Johnson 01/23/24
Republicans on the House Financial Services Committee argued Thursday that the Securities and Exchange Commission’s upcoming rule requiring businesses to submit climate-related disclosures oversteps its authority, in light of recent U.S. Supreme Court and federal…
Read more

Supreme Court likely to discard Chevron

By Amy Howe 01/17/24
It has been nearly 40 years since the Supreme Court indicated in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council that courts should defer to an agency’s reasonable interpretation of an ambiguous statute. After more than three-and-a-half…
Read more

A Potentially Huge Supreme Court Case Has a Hidden Conservative Backer

By Hiroko Tabuchi 01/16/24
The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on Wednesday that, on paper, are about a group of commercial fishermen who oppose a government fee that they consider unreasonable. But the lawyers who have helped…
Read more

The Chevron Doctrine: what it is and why it matters that the Supreme Court might kill it

By David Roberts 01/12/24
In 1984, in a ruling on the case Chevron USA v. NRDC, the Supreme Court formalized what came to be known as the Chevron Doctrine. In essence, it says that courts should give administrative agencies…
Read more

Delaware judge limits scope of sweeping climate change lawsuit against fossil fuel companies

By Randall Chase 01/11/24
A judge has rejected several claims lodged by Delaware’s attorney general in a lawsuit alleging that the fossil fuel industry has downplayed the risks of climate change. Tuesday’s ruling significantly narrows the scope of the…
Read more

Environmental lawyers are worried about the new youth climate case

By Lesley Clark 01/05/24
Environmental lawyers fear that a lawsuit launched by California youth to hold EPA accountable for planet-warming emissions could backfire on other climate cases.
Read more

Federal court won’t reconsider decision to overturn Berkeley, California, natural gas ban

By Ysabelle Kempe 01/02/24
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will not reconsider its decision to overturn Berkeley, California’s first-in-the-nation ban on natural gas hookups in new construction, according to a denial on Jan. 2.
Read more

Two PNW tribal nations sue oil companies over costs of climate change

By Isabella Breda 12/21/23
Major oil companies for decades deliberately sought to downplay and discredit scientific warnings about the central role of fossil fuels in causing climate change, alleges two lawsuits filed this week by the Makah and Shoalwater…
Read more

There Are Nearly 2,500 Climate Lawsuits. This Is the One to Watch.

By John Culhane 11/20/23
Climate change lawsuits have now joined the ranks of impact litigation. Just as claims against the tobacco industry led to a major transformation in the way cigarette sellers were required to do business, and claims…
Read more

KEY RESOURCES

Net Zero Emissions Legislation Around the World: 2022 Update

10/01/22
The Law Library of Congress 1 Net Zero Emissions Legislation Around the World: 2022 Update Prepared by the Staff of the Global Legal Research Directorate This table shows the 57 jurisdictions around the world that…

The Lawfarm Climatechange scorecard

01/27/21
Climate Scores For Vault 100 Law Firms 1

U.S. Climate Change Litigation

08/20/20
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…

Mapped: Climate change laws around the world

03/05/20
There has been a 20-fold increase in the number of global climate change laws since 1997, according to the most comprehensive database of relevant policy and legislation.

Congress and Climate Change

03/05/20
Federal efforts to address climate change are undertaken under laws, and with funding, approved by Congress. Like other complex economy-wide challenges, climate change touches on a wide array of interests. The stakes vary from sector…

Our Focus: Climate Change

03/05/20
Climate change is not a new challenge for CLF. We’ve been working to address its root causes for decades and have played a part in critical milestones to curb its progress. We helped design the…

Environmental Law 101: Climate Change

03/05/20
A short, but thorough, introduction from a leading environmental law think tank on climate change and what is being done to combat it through legal action and policy.

Federal Action on Climate

03/05/20
Given the far-reaching nature of the climate challenge, effective federal policy is needed to achieve deep, long-term reductions in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and to help strengthen climate resilience across the U.S. economy. Even in…

MORE NEWS

US Supreme Court denies request by oil firms to halt coastal erosion suit

By Mark Schleifstein   11/09/23  
The U.S. Supreme Court has denied a request by BP, Shell and Hilcorp oil companies to block the start of a state court lawsuit filed by Cameron Parish seeking as much as $7 billion in…
Read more

Gulf oil lease sale postponed by court amid litigation over endangered whale protections

By Kevin MCGill   10/27/23  
A sale of federal Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases that had been scheduled for Nov. 8 was delayed Thursday by a federal appeals court, pending court arguments that focus on protections for an…
Read more

Judges weigh two auto rules key to Biden’s electric vehicle goals

By Alex Gullen   09/14/23  
Two court hearings over a pair of Biden administration auto regulations that promote the adoption of electric vehicles drew mixed reactions from a panel of three federal judges on Thursday.
Read more

Biden rule, heeding Supreme Court, could strip over half of U.S wetlands’ protections

By Allyson Chiu   08/29/23  
The Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday that it has revised a key rule to comply with a sweeping Supreme Court ruling from this year, which could strip federal protections from up to 63 percent of…
Read more

Supreme Court refuses to block ban on Okla. city fines for Native Americans

By Ann E. Marimow   08/04/23  
The Supreme Court on Friday refused to block a lower court ruling that would revoke the authority of Oklahoma officials to enforce certain laws against Native Americans amid legal confusion over the justices’ 2020 declaration…
Read more

Students give top law firms an F on climate

By Lesley Clark   08/01/23  
Top U.S. lawyers are ramping up their work for the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report by climate-conscious law students that singles out firms representing the contentious Mountain Valley pipeline.
Read more

Supreme Court clears the way for pipeline construction favored by Manchin

By Robert Barnes and Rachel Weiner   07/27/23  
The Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the way to complete a controversial Mid-Atlantic natural gas pipeline, agreeing that Congress greenlighted the project as part of a behind-the-scenes deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
Read more

Mountain Valley pipeline turns to Supreme Court

By Niina H. Farah   07/19/23  
The Supreme Court may soon step into a legal brawl over whether Congress violated the Constitution when it passed a law ensuring completion of the Mountain Valley pipeline — a fight that could have important…
Read more

Sackett fallout leaves wetlands’ fate to states

By E.A. Crunden   06/28/23  
A landmark Supreme Court decision dealing a blow to EPA’s authority is set to sharply redirect power to the state and local levels, prompting a massive shift in wetlands oversight.
Read more

In a Montana Courtroom, Debate Over Whether States Can Make a Difference on Climate Change, and if They Have a Responsibility to Try

By Richard Forbes   06/28/23  
At the close of the final day of their lawsuit against Montana for its failure to rein in development of fossil fuels in the state and slow climate change, all but one of the 16…
Read more

What’s next for the court cases challenging Mountain Valley Pipeline?

By Charlie Paullin   06/09/23  
Although the Mountain Valley Pipeline won fast-tracked approval from Congress last week, environmental groups are still exploring possible legal challenges to prevent it from moving forward. President Joe Biden on Saturday signed the Fiscal Responsibility…
Read more

Supreme Court won’t review ruling barring offshore fracking in California

By Zack Budryk   06/05/23  
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined a request by the oil industry to review a lower court ruling barring fracking off California’s shore. In 2014, the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) sued to halt offshore…
Read more

‘Devastating’ Supreme Court Decision Leaves Wetlands Unprotected

By Andy McGlashen   05/26/23  
The majority of the nation’s wetlands where many birds raise their young, congregate in winter, and rest during migration—and which filter out pollutants and buffer communities from flooding and storm surges—lost legal protections on Thursday…
Read more

Montana youth climate trial to move forward next month with narrowed scope

By Amy Beth Hanson   05/26/23  
The first youth climate change lawsuit in the U.S. to reach trial will take place next month, though the challenge filed against Montana has been narrowed after a judge dismissed a claim against a state…
Read more

Washington state hits the brakes on landmark gas ban

By David Iaconangelo   05/25/23  
The delay raises questions about whether additional cities will stand by their efforts to wind down natural gas use in buildings after a key federal court ruling.
Read more

Supreme Court weakens EPA power to enforce Clean Water Act

By Robert Barnes and Others   05/25/23  
The Supreme Court on Thursday cut back the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate the nation’s wetlands, another setback for the agency’s authority to combat air and water pollution.
Read more

Hoboken Lodges First State-Level Racketeering Charge in Big Oil Climate Lawsuit

By Dana Drugmand   05/25/23  
Suing under an organized crime statute, the New Jersey city says major oil and gas companies and their chief lobbying group have “conspired to deceive the world for decades.”
Read more

Supreme Court Decision Threatens Waterways that Birds (and People) Need

By National Audubon Society   05/25/23  
The Court’s ruling in Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency removes crucial protections for wetlands, limiting the Clean Water Act.
Read more

California bill would hit oil companies with $1 million penalty for health impacts

By Aaron Cantú   05/18/23  
Monic Uriarte was thrilled to get approved for an affordable apartment in Los Angeles’ University Park, close to USC. But soon after she and her family moved there in 2004, they started experiencing headaches and…
Read more

Federal Agency Lawfully Approved $39 Billion Alaska LNG Project

By Samantha Hawkins   05/16/23  
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission lawfully authorized a liquefied natural gas project in Alaska, the D.C. Circuit ruled Tuesday—denying environmental groups’ petition to review the decision.
Read more

Clarence Thomas Reversed Position After Gifts And Family Payments

By Julia Rock and Andrew Perez   05/09/23  
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas changed his position on one of America’s most significant regulatory doctrines after his wife reportedly accepted secret payments from a shadowy conservative network pushing for the change. Thomas’ shift also…
Read more

How will court’s rebuke of Berkeley’s natural-gas ban affect the national movement it began?

By Katie Lauer   04/30/23  
When Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban construction of new natural gas lines in 2019, it pioneered an approach to reducing carbon emissions and pollutants that has since spread around the Bay Area…
Read more

SCOTUS Says No to Exxon, Now the Corporate Free Speech Fight Begins

04/29/23  
On Monday this week the Supreme Court finally weighed in on whether it would take up the jurisdictional argument that oil companies are making in multiple climate liability suits. The companies have been arguing for…
Read more

A seismic win went almost unnoticed amidst the Tuckerstrom

By Bill Mckibben   04/25/23  
All eyes were on former FoxNews angerman Tucker Carlson yesterday, as his owners pushed him from the nest. They offered the tersest of statements and no explanation, but coming on the heels of the giant…
Read more

Supreme Court Refuses to Give Big Oil a “Get Out of Jail Free” Card

By Jason Mark   04/25/23  
The US Supreme Court on Monday delivered a legal setback to some of the world’s biggest oil companies as the justices denied the oil corporations’ pleas to intervene in state and local lawsuits seeking accountability…
Read more

US States and Communities are Suing the Fossil Fuel Industry: Six Things You Need to Know

By L. Delta Merner   04/24/23  
In an important win for climate accountability in the United States, the US Supreme Court decided that lawsuits filed in Colorado, Maryland, California, Hawai’i, and Rhode Island against fossil fuel companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell,…
Read more

US Supreme Court ruling clears RI to pursue climate-change case against oil, gas companies

By Alex Kuffner   04/24/23  
Rhode Island’s landmark climate-change lawsuit was bolstered Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused a petition from some of the largest fossil-fuel companies in the world to consider whether the case and others like it…
Read more

Lawsuit Challenges FEMA Funding to Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Fossil Fuel-Dependent Electric Grid

04/11/23  
Conservation and community groups sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security today over their plans to rebuild Puerto Rico’s centralized electric grid back to the fossil fuel status quo instead…
Read more

A Maine jury will decide the fate of the embattled CMP transmission line

By Sabrina Shankman   04/07/23  
After years of planning, false starts, and a bitterly fought campaign to kill it, the fate of one of Massachusetts’ most important clean energy projects is set to be decided in a Portland, Maine, courtroom…
Read more

The Real Reason Big Oil Wants Climate Cases at the Supreme Court

04/07/23  
For more than five years now, fossil fuel companies have been arguing that the more than two dozen climate liability cases filed against them by counties, cities and states across the country belong in federal…
Read more

Big Oil clashes with Biden in SCOTUS climate brawl

By Lesley Clark   04/06/23  
The fossil fuel industry rebuked the Biden administration on Wednesday for siding with local governments in their lawsuits against oil majors, calling the federal government's position "shot through with flaws" and driven by “a desire…
Read more

Climate cover-up? Federal appeals court rules Minnesota’s lawsuit can proceed

By News Staff   03/24/23  
Minnesota’s lawsuit alleges ExxonMobil, American Petroleum Institute, and Koch Industries systematically deceived and defrauded Minnesotans about the true causes and costs of climate change.
Read more

BREAKING: DOJ throws support behind communities suing Big Oil

03/17/23  
Huge news for climate accountability: After two years of silence, the Department of Justice is finally supporting communities seeking to put Big Oil companies on trial for their climate deception and the damages they have…
Read more

Toxic air, explosions: Inside the bitter battle between Texas residents and Exxon

By Anna Phillips   03/16/23  
When Shirley Williams chose the brick ranch house in a quiet subdivision east of Houston 25 years ago, she picked it for the lush, peaceful backyard. She pictured her husband, Arthur, puttering around the garden,…
Read more

Judge upholds EPA anti-pollution rule against power companies’ challenge

By Elliot Mincberg   03/06/23  
Judge Michelle Childs, nominated by President Biden to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, wrote a unanimous decision that rejected a challenge by a group of power companies to EPA rules requiring…
Read more

Big Oil’s false advertising is not free speech

By Emily Sanders   01/24/23  
“Big Oil peddled the big lie,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said last week following the release of a new study showing Exxon’s acute scientific understanding of climate change preceded its public denial. Facing ever-mounting…
Read more

Big oil is behind conspiracy to deceive public

By Nina Lakhani   12/20/22  
Lawyer in a civil lawsuit launched by towns in hurricane-hit Puerto Rico describes why it is using laws used to target mob bossesThe same racketeering legislation used to bring down mob bosses, motorcycle gangs, football…
Read more

Protecting Communities from Climate Change Is Astronomically Expensive

By Karen Savage and Others   10/24/22  
A proposed series of sea barriers to protect New York’s harbor—which includes parts of New Jersey— from future storm surges? $52 billion. Reducing risk of future damage to Rhode Island’s coast? More than $254 million.…
Read more

Biden ‘social cost of carbon’ climate risk measure upheld by U.S. appeals court

By Clark Mindock   10/21/22  
A U.S. appeals court on Friday upheld the "social cost of carbon" calculation used by President Joe Biden's administration, which sharply boosts the price tag policy makers will put on the environmental impact of greenhouse…
Read more

New Jersey Joins Other States in Suing Fossil Fuel Industry, Claiming Links to Climate Change

By Jon Hurdle   10/18/22  
New Jersey became the latest U.S. state to sue the fossil fuel industry over climate change, alleging it knew for decades that emissions from its products contributed to global warming, but lied to protect its…
Read more

A Supreme Court Case Over Pork Could Imperil U.S. Climate Progress

By Alejandro De La Garza   10/12/22  
he U.S. Supreme Court heard a case this week that could have huge implications for all sorts of state climate regulations, from clean electricity mandates to vehicle fuel standards. But the arguments in court on…
Read more

Leonard Leo Pushed the Courts Right. Now He’s Aiming at American Society.

By Kenneth P. Vogel   10/12/22  
Millions of dollars in television advertisements blasting schools for teaching critical race theory and assailing corporations like BlackRock, Uber and American Airlines for catering to “woke politicians.” A lawsuit pending before the Supreme Court to…
Read more

Supreme Court to hear high-stakes challenge to Clean Water Act

By Maxine Joselow and Vanessa Montalbano   09/30/22  
Monday marks the first day of the Supreme Court's new term, and the justices are wasting no time in weighing another challenge to one of the nation's bedrock environmental laws.
Read more

State lawmakers rated on environmental issues. Here are the rankings.

By Marie J. French   09/20/22  
Scores for the Assembly Democratic conference rose and Senate Democrats dropped slightly from last year in the New York League of Conservation Voters annual scorecard for state lawmakers.
Read more

US Supreme Court’s Gorsuch allows enforcement of $155 million award against Sunoco

By Nate Raymond   09/08/22  
US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch on Thursday rejected Sunoco LP’s request to block efforts to enforce a $155 million judgment against the fuel retailer in a lawsuit accusing it of failing to pay interest…
Read more

Federal judge finds Enbridge trespassed on Bad River lands, but stops short of shutting down Line 5

By Danielle Kaeding   09/08/22  
A federal judge has ruled Canadian energy firm Enbridge Inc. trespassed on Bad River tribal lands and profited at the tribe’s expense but stopped short of shutting down an oil and gas pipeline across the…
Read more

$14 million air pollution fine for Exxon’s Baytown refinery stands

By Clark Mindock   08/30/22  
ExxonMobil Corp must pay a $14.25 million fine over air pollution at its Baytown, Texas crude oil refinery, a federal appeals court affirmed Tuesday. It is the largest penalty ever assessed in a citizen enforcement…
Read more

Appeals court rules two Trump administration Gulf lease sales unlawful

By Zack Budryk   08/30/22  
A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled two Trump-era Interior Department oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico were unlawful.In the ruling, Judge Gregory C. Katsas of the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals found the…
Read more

Opinion: Congress tries to protect the planet from an overreaching court

By E.J. Dionne   08/28/22  
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority put itself front and center in American politics with its decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. But the understandable passion around abortion rights should not obscure another profoundly consequential political…
Read more

The EPA Just Quietly Got Stronger

By Robinson Meyer   08/24/22  
All carrots, no sticks. That is the story of the Inflation Reduction Act. Since the law was unveiled last month, savvy commentators have noted that its policies consist almost entirely of “carrots,” incentives meant to…
Read more