Montana Supreme Court appears divided over youth climate case

By Lesley Clark | 07/11/2024 06:27 AM EDT

Some justices were skeptical that the state is protecting the right to a clean environment. Others asked whether the activists’ lawsuit is premature. Some had no questions.

A photo collage of images of several children who are suing Montana over climate issues.

The young people who sued Montana over climate issues include (top row, left to right) Sariel Sandoval, Kian Tanner, Claire Vlases and Mica Kantor; (middle row, left to right) Eva Lightiser, Kathryn "Grace" Gibson-Snyder, Badge Busse, Georgianna Fischer and Taleah Hernandez; and (bottom row, left to right) Nathaniel King, Lilian D., Lander Busse and Rikki Held. POLITICO illustration; photos courtesy of Our Children's Trust

The Montana Supreme Court did not clearly indicate how it might rule in a landmark case that could change how decisionmakers in the Treasure State — and other parts of the country — consider the climate impacts of fossil fuel development.

Some of the court’s seven justices appeared skeptical during oral arguments Wednesday that a Montana law barring state agencies from considering climate change is consistent with a guarantee in the state Constitution to a clean and healthful environment. Others asked whether it’s too soon to take up the matter, given that the lawsuit from young climate activists does not challenge any specific project.

Several of the court’s members stayed silent during the proceedings.


The hearing in Held v. Montana comes nearly a year to the day after a state judge delivered a major victory to a group of young people who had argued that the state’s ban on climate considerations violates their constitutional rights. Their win has inspired similar litigation elsewhere.