First Children’s Climate Trial v. the State of Montana


This landmark case will go to trial at the 1st District Court of Montana, in Helena, Montana.


The climate crisis has been at the forefront of international issues for years: apparent lack of action has maintained the primary concern however, as many believe that the government is prioritizing profit over the prosperity of our environment. Domestically, policies are stagnant, as states are attempting to shut down any cases that the legislators oppose. In Montana, a group of youths are trying to change this.


The revised Montana constitution, which has been adopted for 51 years, outlined specifically that the state government, “shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations” (Article IX. Sec. 1). Meaning the Montanan government is legally obligated and responsible for the prevention of degradation of natural resources. 


This revision was made to exhibit Montana’s separation from the coal mining industry- ensuring future generations wouldn’t be condemned to past environmental mistakes. Instead of coal mining however, the new polluter is fossil fuels. 


On March 13, 2020, 16 Montana youths filed a lawsuit against the State of Montana, due to their violation of the state constitution. Through the affiliations Montana has with fossil fuel energy companies, the group of plaintiffs believe that this is contributing to the climate crisis; a crisis that would infringe on Montana’s own legislation.


The youths are being backed by the public Oregon-based non-profit group, Our Children’s Trust. The law firm has fought alongside many other high profile cases, including Juliana v United States- a federal climate case that a group of young plaintiffs filed. The group alleged injuries that were allegedly caused by fossil fuels


February 18, 2021, the plaintiff’s attorneys made their oral arguments for the case; which the state motioned to dismiss. On August 4, 2021, after some deliberation, Judge Kathy Seeley of the 1st district court of Montana, ruled in favor of the group; ruling that the plaintiffs could go to trial. This will be the first children’s climate case trial in United State history. 


While many attribute global warming as a “liberal” topic, Montana has been a traditionally red state. The real question is why is Montana, of all places, where the climate fight is materializing? 


The reasoning for these kids being able to go so far is seemingly much less political than anticipated. Politics aside, Montana has strong conservative values, whether that regards property, arms ownership, or the environment. 


These plaintiffs aren’t appealing to the public with a left wing agenda- a typical misconception with fighting climate change-, but displaying that they are simply homegrown grit-filled Montanans that enjoy what the land has to offer. These are children who grew up hiking, hunting, fishing- and watching the slow change within the state. The slow withdrawal of environmental stability has become apparent through health issues, lack of natural resources, and genuine enjoyment of the state.  


The plaintiffs have set themselves and their case apart, because they aren’t trying to challenge the government but rather hold them responsible for what they’ve pledged already. They set themselves apart because they are ordinary Montanans wanting to continue into the future with the environment they’ve had in the past. 


The case goes to trial at the First Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana, on June 12th, 2023. If the trial is ruled in favor of the group of plaintiffs, it could stand as an even larger landmark for the fight against climate change- all warranting the possibility for more exhaustive cases in the future.