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Barrett refuses to say climate change is real: It's 'politically controversial'

‘I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job.’

By Daniel Boguslaw - October 15, 2020
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Amy Coney Barrett

As the Senate confirmation hearing on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court stretched into its third day on Wednesday, senators continued to spar over her qualifications.

Democrats pressed her on her willingness to strike down the Affordable Care Act, her fealty to the legal doctrine of originalism that requires adhering to what is construed as the intention of the authors of the Constitution in the 18th century, and her position on overturning decided cases such as Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education.

Absent, save for a few fleeting moments, were any questions requiring Barrett to set out her views on climate change and how she would decide cases concerning global warming and the long-term viability of life on Earth.

On Tuesday, in response to questioning by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), Barrett said: “I’m certainly not a scientist. I have read things about climate change. I would not say I have firm views on it.” On Wednesday, she said: “I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I would do as a judge, nor do I feel like I have views that are informed enough.”

Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) whether she agreed with Donald Trump’s views on the matter, she responded: “I don’t know that I have seen the president’s expression of his views on climate change.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday asked Barrett: “Do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?”

Barrett responded: “Senator, again, I was wondering where you were going with that. 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 to 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.”

While Barrett’s record of rulings on climate-related cases is slim, her refusal to acknowledge the role of carbon emissions in the warming of the planet as scientific consensus and her claim not to be aware of Donald Trump’s views on the matter suggest that her decisions in related cases brought before the Supreme Court would likely go against environmental regulations and toward blocking any measures aimed at dealing with the existential threat posed by climate change.

In 2018, Barrett joined the ruling in Orchard Hill Building Co. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers against the Army Corps of Engineers in a case of construction of a housing development near wetlands. The ruling found that the wetlands in question did not qualify for federal protection under the Clean Water Act.

While Democrats grilled Barrett over the recusal process, focusing on her opposition to abortion and her affiliation with a coterie of anti-abortion groups that have supported her throughout the nomination process, senators failed to interrogate whether she would recuse herself from environmental cases that could pose a conflict of interest due to her father’s decadeslong career working for Shell Oil.

The Supreme Court is slated to hear a case in coming months concerning a suit in which Royal Dutch Shell PLC is as a defendant. The lawsuit, brought by the city of Baltimore, seeks damages for the consequences of climate change.

Also among the cases the Supreme Court has agreed to hear in its upcoming session are a handful that will set environmental precedents and litigate water rights, endangered species protections, and public land preservation. A 6-3 conservative court with Barrett on the bench could shape environmental policy — or lack thereof — for generations, introducing the same climate denialism of Barrett’s backers into the court’s rulings.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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