U.S. Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett dodged and weaved through two days of questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but “created perhaps the most tangible backlash” with her refusal to declare a position on climate change, the New York Times reports.
“Judge Barrett declined to state her thoughts on climate change in exchange after exchange this week, equating her evasions to the well-established precedent of refusing to comment on issues that could come before the court,” the Times writes. But Barrett, the daughter of an oil executive, “went further” under questioning by vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “She described the settled science of climate change as still in dispute, compared to Ms. Harris’s other examples, including whether smoking causes cancer and the coronavirus is infectious.”
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“Do you believe that climate change is happening and threatening the air we breathe and the water that we drink?” Harris asked.
“You asked me uncontroversial questions, like COVID-19 being infectious or if smoking causes cancer,” in order to solicit “an opinion from me on a very contentious matter of public debate,” Barrett replied. But “I will not do that…I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.”
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“I don’t think that my views on global warming or climate change are relevant to the job I will do,” Barrett continued. “I’m not really in a position to offer any informed opinion on what I think causes global warming.”
Under questioning from Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), she added that “I’m certainly not a scientist,” and “I would not say I have firm views on it.”
“To be fair, I don’t have any ‘views on climate change’ either. Just like I don’t have any ‘views’ on gravity, the fact that the Earth is round, photosynthesis, nor evolution,” #FridaysforFuture founder Greta Thunberg tweeted back. “But understanding and knowing their existence really makes life in the 21st century so much easier.”
The Times and the Post both have reaction to Barrett’s performance, with Michael Gerrard, founder of Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, commenting that her “reflexive stonewalling” has “driven people up the wall.”
“She’s a smart and sophisticated person,” said Richard L. Revesz, director of NYU Law School’s Institute for Policy Integrity. “If she didn’t want to associate herself with the climate denial perspective, she could have used different words.”
“One would expect that intelligent people (and judges) would be aware of what is happening to our climate because it has become so obvious by now,” Robert Percival, a director of the environmental law program at the University of Maryland, told the Washington Post. “I suspect her refusal to acknowledge climate change is out of fear that she might offend the person who nominated her or his supporters in the fossil fuel industry.”
While “Republicans showed no sign of discomfort with that answer,” the Times says, “Judge Barrett’s insistence that she has no opinion on climate change places her within a small and shrinking minority of Americans. Today, 73% of Americans say that global warming is happening, and 62% of Americans accept that it is human caused,” while only 20% say they aren’t sure. “A decade ago, 57% accepted that climate change was happening.”
After she’s appointed to a sharply right-leaning Supreme Court to replace progressive icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barrett could have a major impact on U.S. climate law and litigation, the Times and other news outlets note. But despite his eight months of stonewalling to prevent President Barack Obama from appointing a supreme justice before the 2016 U.S. election, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is determined to ram through Barrett’s nomination following Bader Ginsburg’s death September 18.
“We have the votes,” McConnell said last week.