Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court has been one of the most undemocratic and rushed in modern history. While the public outrage has been all about Barrett’s personal and religious views on reproductive and voting rights, her influence in the court could also devastate efforts to avert climate catastrophe.
WHAT ARE HER VIEWS ON CLIMATE ACTION?
Asked by Senator Kamala Harris, Barrett struggled to affirm whether or not she believed climate change was real while calling it a “very contentious matter of public debate” and a “politically controversial” issue. Barrett also emphasized the fact that she’s “not a scientist” (a common refrain among climate-denying Republican lawmakers) and made it clear – this is not a topic worth her attention.
While climate change policy is an on-going debate, climate change itself has nothing to do with politics – it is a scientific consensus. One doesn’t need to be a scientist to acknowledge the reality of human-caused global warming. Newly sworn-in Justice Barrett’s view (or rather its absence) has left environmentalists unsettled. How will she vote with the court’s other conservatives on cases involving environmental regulations and efforts to combat climate change? Although Barrett doesn’t say much, her silence speaks volumes.
WHAT IS HER JUDICIARY RECORD ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES?
Justice Barrett will be making critical rulings on whether oil and gas companies will be held accountable for the effects of the climate crisis. As an appellate court judge in the past, she acknowledged having a conflict of interest (her father worked at Shell Oil Company as a lawyer). Scientists keep telling us – global warming is mostly caused by people burning oil, gas, and coal. If Barrett refuses to see climate change as the greatest threat to humankind, what kind of decisions will she be making in the Supreme Court? Some republicans deny climate science because they prioritized industry interest over anything else. How is she different?
Recently, the Justice decided to rule against a group of Chicago citizens who were trying to stop the Obama Presidential Center from being constructed in a park. She rejected any of their claims, including that the Center does not serve the public interest but rather the private interest of its sponsor. Barrett has been closing the courthouse doors to those seeking justice, granting additional power to other sorts of groups before her confirmation. It might give us an idea of how she may rule on environmental issues in the future.
Amy Barret’s record has shown her willingness to interpret environmental laws in favor of industry interests. In 2018, she joined an opinion ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers had no jurisdiction to protect a wetland from destruction by a large development corporation. To bring a case to the Supreme Court, the complainant must have standing or, in other words, have suffered an injury. If Justice Barrett isn’t aware that climate change affects the lives of millions (“I’m not a scientist”), it will make it much harder to go to court in the first place. It will stop a wave of climate litigation but at the cost of justice.
HOW MIGHT SHE ENABLE THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS OF OUR TIME?
Amy Coney Barrett will put her input in creating a system that is less responsive to climate change and more hostile to environmental regulations. Even if Joe Biden was to win this November, Justice Barrett could obstruct attempts to enact his $2 trillion climate plan. Climate deniers have long urged to revisit the EPA’s (the United States Environmental Protection Agency) rulings that gave the agency a mandate to regulate carbon dioxide. New climate policies will be likely to face the threat of a legal battle while environmental groups will struggle to force the federal government to more stringently regulate the environment and meet international climate goals. For instance, the Clean Air Act, the major environmental law, was passed because the courts agreed not to intervene due to a strong congressional majority of Democrats. This doesn’t seem realistic anymore. Barrett’s nomination could secure Trump’s environmental legacy including striping government agencies of the power to protect the environment, replacing the Clean Power Plan and the Clean Water Rule, putting climate policymaking in the shadow, and more.
WHY IS IT APPALLING BUT ALSO UN-AMERICAN?
Framing climate change as an issue of policy, not science, can only slow down the progress towards the globally agreed aim of limiting carbon emissions. Fighting global warming has become one of the priorities for states in every part of the planet. Only this week, both South Korea and Japan pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050. Not only the US bears the most responsibility for climate change, a chance of creating a decarbonized society only exists in a multilateral world. If the US Supreme Court judges don’t have “any firm views” on the climate emergency, it can affect the agenda of the whole international community. Do not forget – when the US sneezes, the world catches a cold.
Barrett’s view on the climate crisis is a HUGE red flag. Let’s get it straight – Tinder and OkCupid, the largest dating apps, said their Gen Z and Millennial daters rated the environment as more important than world peace, eradicating disease, and the economy. At the end of the day, all we want is to be with someone who shares our commitment to activism. If the USA was a person, would they even like Amy Coney Barrett? Or would they just swipe left?
Americans need Justices who recognize the government’s obligation to protect the environment and public lands for all people. If anyone should be in the Supreme Court, it is someone who has a reasoning ability to base decisions on facts. Regardless of the outcome of this year’s elections, the impacts of President Trump’s deregulatory environmental plan will outlast his first term.
Barrett’s confirmation ensures the court’s most solid conservative majority in decades. The Supreme Court is shifting right and that is exactly when right means wrong.