Judge Garland Will Bring Rare Environmental Experience to Attorney General Role

Photo: Chuck Kennedy, The White House

Judge Merrick Garland is expected to “respect science and the rule of law” if confirmed as Attorney General. Plus he has deep experience, having heard many environmental cases over his twenty-plus years on the bench in Washington, D.C.  According to our friends at SCOTUS blog, who looked extensively at his judicial record, Garland consistently deferred to agency decision-makers in upholding rules — good news for incoming environmental regulators.  He has also been quite willing to overturn agency actions when they were challenged by environmental organizations. “Judge Garland has shown a relentless commitment to justice throughout his career,” says Sam Sankar, senior vice president of programs at Earthjustice.

Why This Matters: I (Monica) can’t think of an Attorney General who has spent this much time digging into the details of challenging environmental cases.  And thanks to his experience at the Justice Department earlier in his career, he will deftly handle the many 180 degree reversals in pending cases that the Department will need to execute right away.  He is also likely to throw the book at environmental scofflaws, unlike the current administration.  It will be great to have a friend of the planet at the helm of DOJ.

Respect for Science and Rule of Law

Earthjustice explained their unqualified support for Garland’s nomination saying, “Garland’s record reflects a respect for both science and the rule of law. His past opinions have served to protect the environmental rulemaking and enforcement authority of federal agencies like EPA — a critical component of our Constitutional separation of powers.”  Earthjustice is “pleased with this nomination, because we need an AG who supports environmental enforcement and is committed to addressing racial injustice.”

Prominent Decisions

His approach to environmental cases is can be found in decisions like 2014’s  White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA, in which he upheld Obama-era standards for mercury and air toxics from power plants, citing the Clean Air Act language on pollutants, and his dissent in 2002’s American Growers Association v. EPA, arguing that the EPA reasonably justified its anti-haze standards for national parks.  Similarly, in 2003’s In Rancho Viejo v. Norton, he upheld the government’s application of the Endangered Species Act to the arroyo toad over a Commerce Clause challenge.

When Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court was pending, UCLA law professor Ann Carlson. said of him, “He is almost always deferential to agency interpretations of statutes, including environmental ones. When he has not deferred to the Environmental Protection Agency he has sided with environmentalists. And he has ruled in some significant cases that at least suggest he is likely to uphold the President’s signature climate initiative, the Clean Power Plan.”  Hopefully, he will be swiftly confirmed.

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