No, You Can’t Sue, Part Duh

I’ve made it clear where I stand on global warming: I think it’s real, I think we are causing it, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be bad, I don’t think our government has a clue what to do about it. Yet, I feel very comfortable saying that this is bullshit:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore.

“CEI will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association for Attorney General Walker to bring such intimidating demands against a nonprofit group,” said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman. “If Walker and his allies succeed, the real victims will be all Americans, whose access to affordable energy will be hit by one costly regulation after another, while scientific and policy debates are wiped out one subpoena at a time.”

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

This isn’t coming out of nowhere. Several climate activists have bene calling for precisely this sort of investigation for a while and several other AG’s have been pondering such a move. But while I strongly disagree with the CEI about the reality of climate change, this is an extremely chilling move (no pun intended).

Walter Olson again:

If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.

This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

Make no mistake. This isn’t about racketeering and it certainly isn’t about science. It’s about shutting people up. And as a defender of free speech, I will defend it for everyone. The CEI is not engaged in criminal conduct. Nor are they part of a shadow conspiracy of evil oil interests to wreck the planet. At worst, they are guilty of deception in talking about global warming. More likely, they are guilty of motivated reasoning, rejecting global warming because they don’t want it to be true. Neither of those things is a crime. McArdle, on the similar BS inquiry into Exxon Mobil:

State attorneys general including Walker held a press conference last week to talk about the investigation of ExxonMobil and explain their theory of the case. And yet, there sort of wasn’t a theory of the case. They spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions — some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok.

Frankly, the CEI is an odd place to start if we’re going to start bashing anti-science people. The CEI, at worst, is delaying action on a climate crisis that might have negative effects in the future (pushing aside pseudoscientific theories that global warming created ISIS and such). But anti-GMO activists, by contrast, are killing people right now. They’re preventing the use of the golden rice which could stop thousands of people from going blind right now. And don’t get me started on the anti-Vaxxers. But you don’t hear anyone talk of prosecuting them. Why not? Because they’re not associated with Evil Big Oil.

This is garbage. Attorneys General who engage in this sort of tyrannical lawfare need to hounded out of office. This is a companion to my post below on lawsuits against gun companies and it has the same principle: the law is not a weapon to use against people you disagree with. Because once we establish that it is, it will take about ten seconds for that law to be used against your interests.

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  1. InsipiD

    They’re trying to make opinions that are contrary illegal to hold, even if you never act on them.  That’s a really despicable way to shut up opponents.  It’s a by-product of people who follow the belief that the ends justify the means, and who don’t have any respect for the personal liberties outlined in our constitution itself.

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