Climate Change & The U.S. Supreme Court: Playing Politics with our Future
I am deeply proud of my work with the fine lawyers at Our Children’s Trust, the firm that is helping litigate the landmark lawsuit I’ve been party to (Reynolds v. State of Florida), as well as the Federal litigation (Juliana v. United States), that are attempting to have the courts require state and federal governments to enforce laws to clean and protect our climate. The work that Julia Olson and her team, people like Andrea Rogers who helps me here in Florida, conducts is important and impactful.
The comments and answers we are hearing from lawyer Judge Amy Barrett, who will soon replace the iconic RBG on the US Supreme Court, on a range of social and environmental issues that will help shape our future are certainly also important and impactful. Her answers and views on equality, women’s rights and, yes, our environment including our climate change crisis, are critically important to every American.
And every American should shudder to think that someone who will soon be in a lifetime position to rule on all sorts of important laws sees our climate change crisis as a political issue rather than wanting to focus on the science and facts. Here’s what she said when asked about whether she believes climate change is happening, in effect if it is real:
“I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”
– Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Responding To A Senate Judiciary Question on Whether Climate Change Is Happening
What kind of an answer is that from an educated person who will soon sit on the highest court in our land? A frightening one for sure.
And with this in mind I’d like to share much of the content that Our Children’s Trust has just published about Judge Barrett’s nomination and especially her answers related to our climate change crisis.
Earlier today, Judge Barrett offered the above response to Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) when asked about climate change. Later in the afternoon, in an exchange with Senator Kamala Harris, Judge Barrett was asked whether she believed that COVID-19 was infectious, whether smoking causes cancer, and whether climate change is real. Here is part of their exchange:
Senator Harris: “Do you believe climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?”
Judge Barrett: “…You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial like whether COVID-19 is infectious, whether smoking causes cancer, and then trying to analogize that eliciting…. an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate and I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial because that’s inconsistent with the judicial role as I have explained.” (emphasis ours)
Judge Barrett signaled today to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she believes climate change is a matter of politics not science. We vehemently disagree. We expect lifetime jurists on our nation’s highest court to understand and respect what is overwhelmingly established scientific fact: Climate change is real and it is caused by human activity.
Judge Barrett answered questions today about the scientific reality of COVID-19 even while religious freedom cases challenging governmental COVID-19 policies are working their way through multiple courts and could end up in the Supreme Court. We understand she can’t comment on government climate policies, but she should be able to truthfully answer questions on the scientific reality of climate change.
And it isn’t just scientists who know this. Alongside the world’s governments, scientists, children, and faith leaders, Pope Francis, in Laudato Si and more recently in Fratelli Tutti has said that climate change is the most serious issue facing humanity. Just this week, the Pope said that science tells us every day “that urgent action is needed . . . if we are to keep the hope of avoiding radical and catastrophic climate change. And for this we must act now. This is a scientific fact.”
Before any vote is taken, Judge Barrett needs to clarify her opinion on and understanding of climate science and whether she would respect credible scientific evidence in cases before her. Contrary to what her responses at the hearings suggest, Supreme Court Justices don’t just interpret the law, and they don’t avoid hearing cases on issues they might view as being contentious; instead they apply law to the facts and evidence, even when it involves complex areas of science.
Our Children’s Trust has sent questions to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, demanding answers on Judge Barrett’s understanding of climate science and whether she would respect expert evidence in cases before her, as well as the constitutional rights of children.
It is clear that Judge Barrett will soon be given a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court. The Republican Party, led by President Trump, has clearly decided to set aside the protocol of decency and decorum that’s been followed in the past (much less common sense) and instead force the issue upon our nation before it’s too late (meaning before the November 3rd, 2020 election) for them.
As we vote in the upcoming election, please keep in mind that candidates for an office such as the Presidency or that of a Governor are in positions to nominate and appoint judges that have a lasting impact on our society long after those elected officials have left elected office. And as Judge Barrett made clear this week, judges can be biased and prefer to play politics rather than focus on the facts and our collective futures and that, my friends, should alarm each of us.
Please vote like our future depends on it… because it does.