Wallace Stegner Center professors file amicus brief in support of Utah youth-led constitutional climate case

Oct 10, 2023 | Faculty

Erika George, a black woman wearing a grey dress and white statement necklace, and Jamie Pleune, a white woman with blonde hair wearing a grey blazer and pink blouseProfessor Erika George and Associate Professor Jamie Pleune, along with Emeritus Professor Robert Adler, recently filed an amicus brief to the Utah Supreme Court in the Utah youth-led constitutional climate case Natalie R. v. State of Utah. 

Other S.J. Quinney staff members—Associate Professor Lingxi Chenyang, Associate Professor Ruhan Nagra, and Professor Clifford Rosky—signed the amicus brief, along with law professors at schools around the country.

The youth plaintiffs in Natalie R. v. State of Utah are challenging several state statutes that require Utah’s government to promote and maximize fossil fuel development, through which the state is causing and contributing to dangerous air quality and climate change in Utah, harming the youth’s health, safety, and taking years off their lives in violation of their rights to life and liberty under Utah’s Constitution. The Utah district court dismissed the youth’s case, ruling in part that the rights to life and liberty “don’t apply” to fossil fuel policies. The Utah Supreme Court has decided to hear the appeal directly, bypassing the court of appeals and signaling their recognition of the important constitutional questions involved.

The amicus brief argues that the district court erred in inventing an exception to due process rights for fossil fuel policies by making three points: (1) the constitutional framers intended due process rights to apply to new circumstances and not remain static; (2) substantive due process rights apply irrespective of the particular mechanism of government harm; and (3) the many circumstances to which courts have applied substantive due process protections demonstrate their broad applicability.

Read the full amicus brief.

Additionally, alumni Jonathan G. Jemming (an ’03 O’Hara Fellow and 2004 Utah Law graduate) and Cathy Lilly (’97) submitted a separate amicus brief in Natalie R. v. State of Utah. Jemming and Lilly served as counsel for the public health organizations named in the brief.

Read Jemming and Lilly’s full amicus brief.