Saturday, May 30, 2009

Environment, Energy, and the U.S. Supreme Court: Judge Sonia Sotomayor Nominated for Membership on High Court

Whether federal judge Sonia Sotomayor is confirmed as the next associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court will not hang in the balance as a result of environmental or energy issues.

The so-called “experts” are more concerned about fringe and/or hot-button issues. Real life issues like weighing environmental protection and economic development take a backseat to the issues that the radio and TV personalities can bang on and on about in their never ending quest for higher ratings.

Nevertheless, it is illuminating to consider what some in the business and environmental communities think about President Barack Obama’s first nominee for the Supreme Court.

There is no more quintessential business group than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and for the time being they are taking a cautious view of Judge Sotomayor. "In recent years, the Supreme Court has played an increasingly important role in deciding issues that affect the business community and the health of the economy,” the Chamber said in reaction to the nomination. “It is important that the confirmation process focus carefully on the nominee’s views and how they would impact economic growth and Main Street businesses. It is equally important that the next associate justice applied the law without bias.” In the past, the Chamber has endorsed nominees made by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

On the other hand, environmental groups have been outwardly enthusiastic about the nomination. Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said, “Our different backgrounds strengthen us in our efforts to protect the natural and human environment, and we fully expect decades of exemplary service from Judge Sotomayor.” Similarly, Glenn Sugameli, responsible for researching judicial nominations for Earthjustice, said, “Her knowledge, understanding and service as a federal trial and appellate court judge provide invaluable perspectives for deciding environmental protection and related issues,” Greenwire reported (“Enviro Groups Like What They See in Obama’s Justice Pick,” May 27, 2009).

There are several cases Judge Sotomayor has been involved in that may shed some light on her philosophy in this area. Judge Sotomayor was a member of a three-judge panel that heard arguments in 2006 in Connecticut v. American Electric Power Inc.  In the case a group of attorneys general alleged that greenhouse gas emissions were in effect a public nuisance. A federal trial court ruled in favor of the utilities, and the case was on appeal to the Second Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. According to Greenwire, Judge Sotomayor said during a hearing, “I have absolutely no idea about the science of global warming. But if the science is right, we have relegated ourselves to killing the world in the foreseeable future. Not in centuries to come but in the very near future.” The appellate panel has handed down no decision.

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