justice lawyer / judge gavel working with legal documents in a court room
justice lawyer / judge gavel working with legal documents in a court room

Should We Allow Minors to Manipulate Courts?

Originally published at Newsmax

In 2020, a small group of Montana minors filed a lawsuit to force Montana officials to consider climate change when they approve fossil fuel projects. Their lawsuit, Held v. Montana, argued that children are “uniquely vulnerable” to climate change; hence a state law that doesn’t require regulators to consider climate change violates their constitutional rights.

This month, the kids found a district court judge named Kathy Seeley who agreed with them.

What’s wrong with this story?

For one thing, the focus of the lawsuit is to curb production of energy, not energy consumption. If Montana officials block an instate project, it won’t affect global climate. So why?

Answer: That’s the easy way to get the public behind green advocacy — don’t tell people what they should do to curb their own energy consumption, tell the public what some corporation must forfeit.

The plaintiffs’ complaint looks at climate in a vacuum. The document argues, for example, that climate change threatens the livelihood of the family of plaintiff Rikki Held, now 22. Her family business is cattle ranching.

They’ve earned a shoutout from us meat eaters. But, if you’ve followed global-warming politics, you know of the considerable methane contribution produced by the nation’s belching and farting cows.

Another problem: The plaintiffs ask to be treated as “a protected class.”

“Youth Plaintiffs are the living generation that will be most affected by the actions of Defendants,” they maintain. Really? To me, that language is just a law-school gimmick to give one group standing, when really, the climate affects everyone.

“Children are uniquely vulnerable to the consequences of the climate crisis, which harms Youth Plaintiffs’ physical and psychological health and safety, interferes with family and cultural foundations and integrity, and causes economic deprivations,” they argue.

And: “The psychological harms caused by the climate crisis can result in a lifetime of hardships for children.”

You’d never guess that children are anxious about the climate because of environmental fear-mongering.

Be it noted that if the plaintiffs were to prevail after appeals, the real economic deprivation would hit Montanans who work in the energy sector or depend on it.

In a statement, Michael J. O’Neill of the conservative Landmark Legal Foundation predicted that he believes Seeley’s “outlier decision” will be overturned on appeal.

The most offensive element of her ruling is that she steamrolled over a law carefully considered by lawmakers in this oil-, gas- and coal-rich state.

In 1972, The New York Times reported, Helena amended its constitution to say Montana should “maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

Since 2011, state law has prevented officials from considering “‘actual or potential impacts that are regional, national, or global in nature’ when conducting environmental reviews of large projects.”

Montana lawmakers explicitly updated the law in May to block officials from deciding large projects based on their impact on climate. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the measure.

“Here, the Montana legislature made a political decision to limit state agencies,” O’Neill offered. “And Plaintiffs have a political remedy — they can work to overturn the law and convince the Montana legislature to act.”

Except, these “youth plaintiffs” decided that they could file a lawsuit and hope for a sympathetic judge happy to bypass the will of Montana voters.

Debra J. Saunders

Fellow, Chapman Center for Citizenship Leadership
A fellow with Discovery Institute’s Chapman Center for Citizen Leadership, Debra J. Saunders worked for more than thirty years covering politics on the ground and in Washington, as well as American culture, the news media, the criminal justice system, and dubious trends in public schools and prestigious universities. Her column is nationally syndicated with Creators Syndicate.