“People threatened or injured by public health and environmental harms depend on access to the courts to redress those harms. This is a pillar of the American justice system.” – Environmental Defense Fund
“We need Justices who will make sure our courts remain a place where science and the law beat corruption and privilege.” — Earthjustice
As the nation mourns the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there has been an opportunity to both reflect on her enormous environmental legacy as well as the essential role the Supreme Court plays in reinforcing this country’s bedrock environmental laws.
While it is well known that the next Justice will be enormously important for ensuring equality and access to high-quality health care, what might not be as broadly acknowledged is how consequential the next Justice will be for climate action, protecting clean air and water, and the health of our natural environment.
Climate action and the value of common-sense environmental protections that safeguard the health of the American people must be central to the discussion of the next nominee to the Supreme Court.
Justice Bader Ginsburg served more than 27 years on the nation’s highest court, becoming one of its most prominent members. RBG, as she was affectionately known, left a long environmental legacy, including the Supreme Court precedent that created the current legal framework that empowered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate pollution driving climate change. For example, she was part of the Court majority that paved the way for the EPA to take bold climate action to regulate carbon pollution in the first-ever ruling on climate change, 2007’s Massachusetts v. EPA.
Justice Bader Ginsburg’s replacement will hear arguments on several key cases that will have long-lasting impacts on environmental protections and climate change. These cases are in lower courts now and could eventually be decided in the US Supreme Court. These cases include significant measures that the Natural Resources Council of Maine and Maine people have long advocated for, including public health protections against carbon and toxic air pollution from sources like power plants, vehicles, oil and gas infrastructure, and other sources. Many of these cases involve protections that have been around for decades saving lives and preventing life-threatening health effects. These rules are based on existing case law and founded in landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act. Activist judges could undermine those laws, and their court decisions could allow more pollution in our air, water, and land.
For more than 50 years, our nation’s health and environmental protections have worked to improve our quality of life, water, and air. These laws should be bedrock protections in our nation and not be put in jeopardy when judicial nominees put corporate profits above people’s rights.
Our nation’s environmental laws are based on science and facts. These laws have resulted in cleaner air and water while also fueling economic growth, enhancing human health, and recognizing the enormous value our public lands have for our nation’s identity and future.
That’s why it is vitally important that nominees to the federal bench, including the Supreme Court, pass the basic litmus test that they agree our environmental rules and policies need to be based on science and the law, and that there is no place on the bench for ideological decisions that imperil our health and environment.
Unfortunately, according to an analysis by Earthjustice, there are serious concerns about the environmental record of the nominee tapped by the Trump Administration to replace Justice Bader Ginsburg, Judge Amy Coney Barrett. In writing about their findings, Earthjustice said, “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.”
Barrett’s record is indeed worrying and warrants close scrutiny for adherence to central tenets of environmental law, including judicial precedents and statutes that protect public health and the environment for all Americans. It is the responsibility of the Senate, including each individual Senator, to take the time needed to carefully examine and weigh a nominee’s record and views. Each must put aside partisan politics and consider the impact to people’s health—and the health of the world that sustains us—when questioning the nominee and ultimately casting their vote.
Our courts should not be used to put the profits of corporations over the health and safety of the American people. We cannot afford a Supreme Court that blocks innovative solutions, stifles science-backed action, and dismantles effective protections for clean water, clean air, or rolls back laws to tackle climate change.
We urge Senators Susan Collins and Angus King to lead the charge demanding the Senate not rush a lifetime appointment through confirmation hearings. There needs to be sufficient time to closely examine the nominee’s legal views, including on environmental law. The Supreme Court, and all federal courts, should be courts that guarantee rights for Americans, including the right to clear air, clean water, and a safe environment.
— Emmie Theberge, NRCM Federal Director