Environmental Cases in the Cross Hairs As Trump Nominates Amy Coney Barrett

Judge Amy Coney Barrett at the White House       Photo: Screenshot White House Facebook

On Saturday, President Trump announced he would nominate Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, and predictably her approach to environmental cases is likely to be quite conservative.  As Pamela King of E&E News points out, “Barrett’s record on environmental and energy issues is largely undeveloped, but several environmental groups voiced concern about Barrett’s narrow view of public interest groups’ power to sue in opinions she wrote as a judge.”  One issue on which she has taken a narrow view is standing — the right of environmental groups to sue in the first place — and that does not bode well for citizen group challenges.  She got her start working for former Justice Antonin Scalia and her father was a lawyer for Shell Oil.

Why This Matters:  Environmental cases are likely to be heading to the Supreme Court as many statutes need to be interpreted to deal with today’s environmental challenges — whether due to Trump rule rollbacks or a Biden Administration reading of current law to cover new issues.  Interestingly, if Coney Barrett is confirmed, there will be SIX Catholics on the Court.  They should read the Pope’s June statement issuing tough guidance for carrying out his climate encyclical, including calling on Catholics to divest of investments in fossil fuel companies. It will be interesting to see how they pick and choose religious as well as legal doctrine to follow.

Environmental Organizations Expressed Concern

Though her views are somewhat unclear given that she has only been a judge for three years, environmental groups are concerned about the President’s pick.  In a blog, Sam Sankar and Keith Rushing of Earth Justice said, “When it comes to protecting the environment, judges matter—and none more than the Justices of the Supreme Court. Amy Coney Barrett’s record suggests that she may be willing to strip government agencies of the power to protect the environment and to further close the courthouse doors to those seeking justice.”  And on the issue of who can bring a lawsuit, Judge Barrett’s views seem clear and not favorable.  Michael Gerrard, a law professor at Columbia said, “Litigation brought by states and by environmental groups is very important — for instance, in holding Trump’s feet to the fire,” Without environmental groups holding the Trump Administration accountable, environmental laws could be gutted further.

Similarly, Judge Barrett may make it hard for any Biden Administration interpretations of these laws to stand.  As Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, explained “Barrett has made clear her disdain for federal agencies and the public protections they issue, which puts our ability to tackle climate change directly in her crosshairs.” King reporting for E&E News explained it this way, “While Barrett’s judicial record is light on environmental issues, legal experts have pointed to her writings on administrative law as an indicator that she might favor a tighter rein on federal regulatory efforts on issues like greenhouse gas emissions.”

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