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'Gov knew' becomes catchphrase in Portland rally supporting young plaintiffs suing federal government over climate change inaction

PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Supporters of a youth climate lawsuit gather in downtown Portland to watch a live broadcast of an appeals court hearing in the lawsuit that asserts the federal government must take action on climate change to protect the rights of the youngest generation.Rallies against climate change have become a familiar scene in downtown Portland, but a gathering Tuesday, June 4, saw people travel from as far away as Olympia, Washington, for what they said was a historic day.

Hundreds gathered around a screen set up in Director Park Tuesday afternoon as oral arguments began in an appeal hearing for Juliana et al vs. U.S.

The civil rights lawsuit was filed in Oregon against the federal government by a college student in 2015 and asserts the government's inaction on climate change is a threat to the constitutional rights of children.

Participants in Tuesday's rally gathered with signs and laid on the ground, using their bodies to form the words "Gov knew," the catchphrase used to assert the lawsuit's claim that government leaders knew about the threats of climate change for years.

The primary plaintiff, Kelsey Juliana, was just 19 at the time the lawsuit was filed in Eugene. She joined plaintiffs from Beaverton, Bend and across the nation who argued their rights to life, liberty and property have been violated and the government is failing to protect resources as dictated by the public trust doctrine.

"The federal government has known for decades that carbon dioxide pollution was causing catastrophic climate change and that massive emission reductions and a nation-wide transition away from fossil fuels was needed to protect plaintiffs' constitutional rights," the civil rights complaint states.

"This is everything," Tim Shannon of Olympia, Washington, said Tuesday afternoon, with his 8-year-old daughter by his side. "I heard there's another one in September. If there is, I'll take off work to be there."PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Angel Montes, 10, and Sophia Asturino, 11, gather in Director Park for a rally to support young plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the federal government over climate change.

Across the promenade, Karen Leigh and Keith Oldham pinned patches on each other, with two of their great grandchildren in tow. The family traveled by bus from Eugene, where the lawsuit initially was filed.

"We have five little ones," Leigh said. "We're here for them."

She pointed to her 10-year-old great grandson, Angel, who stood amid the crowd with a large patch on his back that read, "Let the youth be heard."

"He was feeling not so hopeful and we wanted him to see how many people care," Leigh said.

Audible cheers and jeers were let out just after 2 p.m., as Jeff Clark, assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice's Environment and Natural Resources Division, argued for the dismissal of the case, which has made its way from a federal courthouse in Eugene to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Supreme Court also intervened in the case, after the plaintiffs filed for preliminary injunction to halt all new coal mining permits and leases on federal public lands, and stop approval of offshore oil and gas extraction.

"This is a suit that we believe is a direct attack on the separation of powers…" Clark argued, saying the case, "by its very design (it) appears to try to take on and skirt limitations in the administrative procedure act."

Judge Andrew Hurwitz responded with a hypothetical question for Clark: "Let's assume there was immediate threat to the life of various plaintiffs and that threat could only be averted by executive branch action. Are you saying the courts would have no role in doing that and if the executive branch decided not to act, the plaintiffs would now have no option but to die?"

Clark retorted, "The harms that are being articulated here are not ones that, you know, manifest immediately…"PMG PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Participants in a rally to support a youth climate lawsuit against the federal government gather in downtown Portland Tuesday, June 4 shortly before court hearings on the lawsuit were scheduled to take place.

Hurwitz cut him off: "Assume we have rogue raiders coming across the Canadian border and they're kidnapping children of a certain age and murdering them, and the White House refuses to do anything and Congress doesn't act. Can those people go to court to compel action? Your answer, I take it, has to be 'no,' doesn't it?"

Clark suggested the remedy to the hypothetical threats put forth by the judge and the climate threats named by the young plaintiffs, lies not with the courts, but with the political process.

"That's not the institutional competence of the judicial branch," Clark replied. "It's not to deal with exigent threats like that. That's what the executive branch is for. And so, the remedy, however painful it might be, if one really thought you had a situation like that … is the political remedy of removing them from office."

No decisions were made in Tuesday's hearing.

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