Good News: Young people celebrate historic climate lawsuit victory in Montana court

This is the first time a US climate accountability lawsuit has even made it to trial. This June, 16 youth plaintiffs ranging in age from 5 to 22 (shown here, surrounded by supporters on their way into court) put their government on trial in the case Held v. State of Montana. Credit: William Campbell, Getty Images

By Kaitlyn Scanlon, Alliance Intern from Oregon State University ’26

In an unprecedented constitutional win for climate advocates, the 16 youth plaintiffs of Held v. State of Montana won their case by asserting that “climate injuries and harms, caused by the actions of their own government, violate the youth’s state constitutional rights.” They did so by providing adequate evidence of the environmental harm perpetuated by Montana’s fossil fuel laws, the state’s failure to utilize clean energy over fossil fuels, and injuries caused to them through adherence to those fossil fuel laws.

They won their case on June 20, 2023 after 18 days of testifying before the First Judicial District Court of Montana. Judge Kathy Seeley ruled in their favor, deciding that “the state of Montana violated the youth’s constitutional rights, including their rights to equal protection, dignity, liberty, health and safety, and public trust, which are all predicated on their right to a clean and healthful environment,” according to Youth v. Gov. While other countries have succeeded in winning constitutional rights addressing climate change, efforts in the US have previously failed.

Judge Kathy Seeley stated that the young plaintiffs have “a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment, which includes climate as part of the environmental life-support system,” according to ABC News. The fossil fuel industry will be appealing this ruling, so it will possibly go to the Montana Supreme Court. No matter how this case ends, it’s encouraging to hear such clear recognition of the rights of youth and how they’re impaired by human-caused climate change.

As a result of this ruling, “legislative and executive branches will now be responsible for conforming their practices around fossil fuels to the judge’s ruling, including the admonition that ‘every additional ton of GHG emissions exacerbates Plaintiffs’ injuries and risks locking in irreversible climate injuries.’” Whereas state law once forbade Montana officials from considering the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from fossil fuel use, it now requires it!  

I hope this historic precedent is just the beginning of other states, and even the federal government, assuring the rights of young people and their future.

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