Equity must have a place in each system of jurisprudence, in substance if not in name.
– John Willard, Treatise on Equity Jurisprudence
We learn early on in the United States that we have three branches of government for a reason – to ensure checks and balances. Enshrined in the Constitution, common law and statutory law are rules we as citizens are all legally obligated to follow. These obligations apply to Congress and the White House too, they don’t get a free pass. When Congress and the White House violate their own laws – the laws that form the very foundation of civil society – citizens can go to the courts and ask the judiciary to step in and compel our government to act lawfully. And it’s the judiciary’s responsibility to do just that.
Congress and the White House have a long-standing, deeply established, legal obligation to protect the natural resources we all share in common such as our air and our water. They are failing us. And while these two branches of government wallow in inaction claiming that nothing can get done in Washington due to the divisive, partisian-made, political climate, the climate we depend upon for our very survival is crashing fast. It is this inaction and subsequent failure to protect our one and only atmosphere as required by law that prompted 11-year old Jaime Lynn Butler – along with youth across the country – to take their case to court as part of the atmospheric trust legal effort lead by the iMatter youth and Our Children’s Trust with support from WITNESS.
Congress and the White House are violating U.S. law. Most all our State Governments are breaking their own state laws too. So our youth are utilizing the last branch of our democracy that may be open to them and asking our judges to listen to their stories, hear their legal argument and make a considered and lawful decision.
Watch the video below produced by WITNESS, Our Children’s Trust and the iMatter Campaign to learn why Jaime is taking her case to court:
Jaime Lynn Butler began protecting the Earth when she was four years old and her letter writing efforts continue. Recently, she sent this letter to President Obama asking for his assistance with something she deems of vital importance – the atmosphere.
January 25, 2012
Dear President Obama,
Hi, I don’t know if you remember me but my name is Jaime Lynn Butler. I wrote to you a lot about the arctic wildlife refuge and the oil spill and you wrote back to me. I am concerned about all the animals, the polar bears and jellyfish.
I am sending you a video about me and how climate change is affecting me and Arizona. I hope you win and like my video. Also I hope this video will help you win and you can help stop climate change. I know you can help because I watched your speech last night, and again today in Arizona, it was GREAT!
If you don’t remember me last school year I was in fourth grade and now I am in fifth grade. Also I am 11 years old and learning about Egypt. They live in the desert like me and I hope they never run out of water. I go to Pine Forest Charter School and live in Flagstaff because my home on the Navajo reservation has no running water.
I am sad I can’t vote until I am 18 years old, because I am your BIGGEST supporter!
Your Biggest Supporter,
Jaime Lynn Butler
So while Jaime is still pursuing efforts with the White House and Congress, it’s key to understand one thing from all this. Our youth are not seeking extraordinary measures. They are just asking the judiciary to draw on its power – given to them by the founding fathers – to compel our governments to abide by our own laws. In even simpler terms, the youth are asking our leaders to lead but since they haven’t responded to the requests, our youth have no choice but to ask the judiciary to compel our leaders to act.
To learn more about the 10-part video series Stories of TRUST: Calling for Climate Recovery, the iMatter Campaign or the atmospheric trust legal effort click here or read further below.
About Atmospheric Trust Litigation (ATL)
When considering how to save the atmospheric commons globally, one of the most overlooked yet promising gambits is a series of “atmospheric trust” legal effort launched in the United States in May 2011. This remarkable legal effort, which consists of lawsuits or actions against governmental agencies filed in all 50 states and in federal court on the same day, seeks to force state and federal governments to apply the venerable Public Trust Doctrine to the atmosphere and protect it for future generations.
The basic claim in this landmark legal action is that all governments hold natural resources in trust for their citizens and bear the fiduciary obligation to protect such resources for future generations. This cause of action is established by the Public Trust Doctrine, a legal doctrine enshrined in every civilized government to hold governments responsible for protecting the resources we all share in common and depend upon for our very survival, such as air, water, forests and wildlife. The Public Trust Doctrine embodies the basic human rights principle of intergenerational justice which, at its core, means that current generations cannot continue on their current, destructive path and leave the planet damaged for future generations.
The 51 legal actions across the U.S. are all being brought by youth from around the country joined together with public interest attorneys, highly distinguished legal and environmental scholars, and top climate scientists. The youth are asking the courts for both declaratory and injunctive relief. Specifically, the youth are asking the courts to find that:
- The atmosphere is a resource we all share;
- Since the atmosphere is a shared resource, it must be protected, in trust, by our governments; and
- That protection means adopting and implementing Climate Recovery Plans. These plans, based on the best available science, would establish peak global carbon dioxide emissions by 2012, reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by at least 6 percent every year, and commit to widespread reforestation.
In essence, youth are asking the judiciary to draw on their power to force carbon reduction on the basis of a fiduciary responsibility to protect their futures.