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Held v. Montana

Location: Montana
Court Type: Montana Supreme Court
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: May 22, 2024

What's at Stake

This case pending before the Montana Supreme Court asks, among other things, whether the claims of sixteen youth plaintiffs challenging Montana energy policy present a political question under the Montana Constitution. The ACLU’s State Supreme Court Initiative, alongside the ACLU of Montana, filed an amicus brief arguing that the claims do not present a political question and, moreover, that state courts should not wholesale adopt the federal political questions doctrine.

Federal courts have relied on the prudential “political questions doctrine” to avoid addressing questions that are textually committed to other branches of the government and lack judicially discoverable and manageable standards. In recent years, some state courts have adopted this doctrine to dismiss otherwise valid constitutional challenges, even those involving egregious harms. This case questions whether a state’s affirmative protection of young people from climate change, as set forth in Montana’s constitutional right to a “clean and healthful environment”, could fall under the political doctrine question, and thus, is nonjusticiable.

In 2020, 16 youth plaintiffs represented by Our Children’s Trust sued the state of Montana for not protecting their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment. In the district court proceeding, they argued that the State of Montana’s energy policy perpetuates a fossil-fuel based system that contributes to climate change and violates the youth plaintiffs’ constitutional right to clean and healthful environment, as well as their right to seek safety, health, and happiness, and to individual dignity. The lower court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ruled that the Montana Environmental Policy Act—which prohibited the state from considering greenhouse gas emissions as a factor when pursuing energy projects—was unconstitutional.
The ACLU, alongside the ACLU of Montana, wrote an amicus brief arguing that the reach of the political question doctrine should be limited under the Montana Constitution.

The brief relies on Montana caselaw to argue that the political doctrine question only applies to federal courts and should remain that way according to the text and history of the Montana Constitution. Other state courts have declined to expand the political doctrine question and even if the doctrine were expanded, it would not support nonjusticiability in this case

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