Wednesday, April 04, 2007

SCOTUS Makes Up New Administrtive Law Standards out of Thin Hot Air

Joining such renowned scientists as Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore, five justices of the Supreme Court have stepped into the realm of politics and policy, left aside any concept of Constitutional limits on judicial power or the rule of law, and declared themselves experts on the global climate. This absurd decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, which can only be explained by the 5 justices' policy preferences in this area (as opposed to their ability to dispassionately evaluate a factual record and the legal standards), contorts the state of the law radically to achieve a policy end. Shameful.

The Chief Justice's dissent is powerful, and hopefully, is an indicator of the future direction of the court when the 5 legislators-in-robes step aside from their usurpation:
If petitioners' particularized injury is loss of coastal land, it is also that injury that must be "actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical," Defenders of Wildlife, supra, at 560, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351 (internal quotation marks omitted), "real and immediate," Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 102, 103 S. Ct. 1660, 75 L. Ed. 2d 675 (1983) (internal quotation marks omitted), and "certainly impending," Whitmore v. Arkansas, 495 U.S. 149, 158, 110 S. Ct. 1717, 109 L. Ed. 2d 135 (1990) (internal quotation marks omitted).

As to "actual" injury, the Court observes that "global sea levels rose somewhere between 10 and 20 centimeters over the 20th century as a result of global warming" and that "these rising seas have already begun to swallow Massachusetts' coastal land." Ante, at 19. But none of petitioners' declarations supports that connection. One declaration states that "a rise in sea level due to climate change is occurring on the coast of Massachusetts, in the metropolitan Boston area," but there is no elaboration. Petitioners' Standing Appendix in No. 03-1361, etc. (CADC), p. 196 (Stdg. App.). And the declarant goes on to identify a "significant" non-global-warming cause of Boston's rising sea level: land subsidence. Id., at 197; see also id., at 216. Thus, aside from a single conclusory statement, there is nothing in petitioners' 43 standing declarations and accompanying exhibits to support an inference of actual loss of Massachusetts coastal land from 20th century global sea level increases. It is pure conjecture.

The Court's attempts to identify "imminent" or "certainly impending" loss of Massachusetts coastal land fares no better. See ante, at 19-20. One of petitioners' declarants predicts global warming will cause sea level to rise by 20 to 70 centimeters by the year 2100. Stdg. App. 216. Another uses a computer modeling program to map the Commonwealth's coastal land and its current elevation, and calculates that the high-end estimate of sea level rise would result in the loss of significant state-owned coastal land. Id., at 179. But the computer modeling program has a conceded average error of about 30 centimeters and a maximum observed error of 70 centimeters. Id., at 177-178. As an initial matter, if it is possible that the model underrepresents the elevation of coastal land to an extent equal to or in excess of the projected sea level rise, it is difficult to put much stock in the predicted loss of land. But even placing that problem to the side, accepting a century-long time horizon and a series of compounded estimates renders requirements of imminence and immediacy utterly toothless. See Defenders of Wildlife, supra, at 565, n. 2, 112 S. Ct. 2130, 119 L. Ed. 2d 351 (while the concept of "'imminence'" in standing doctrine is "somewhat elastic," it can be "stretched beyond the breaking point"). "Allegations of possible future injury do not satisfy the requirements of Art. III. A threatened injury must be certainly impending to constitute injury in fact." Whitmore, supra, at 158, 110 S. Ct. 1717, 109 L. Ed. 2d 135. (internal quotation marks omitted; emphasis added).
At least the court only remanded to give the EPA another chance to explain their decision - Justice Stevens stopped short at crafting world-saving emissions standards for the EPA to implement. But as Justice Scalia notes:
Even on the Court's own terms, however, the same conclusion follows. As mentioned above, the Court gives EPA the option of determining that the science is too uncertain to allow it to form a "judgment" as to whether greenhouse gases endanger public welfare. Attached to this option (on what basis is unclear) is an essay requirement: "If," the Court says, "the scientific uncertainty is so profound that it precludes EPA from making a reasoned judgment as to whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming, EPA must say so." Ante, at 31. But EPA has said precisely that -- and at great length, based on information contained in a 2001 report by the National Research Council (NRC) entitled Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions[.] *** I simply cannot conceive of what else the Court would like EPA to say.
I've written on this before, when the DC Circuit made the correct legal decision. As I said then, "In addition to the activists and cities, no fewer than 12 States are plaintiffs here. That's 24 Senators and 151 Representatives - nearly a quarter of the US Congress! Surely they are not without political power. If those states wish to ensure the EPA is fixing global warming, the remedy is in the chambers of the Capitol, not in the courts."

The question is not whether or not global warming is a "crisis," or whether not the EPA should regulate car emissions. The question is whether five unelected judges should be able to dictate massive, unimaginably complex, economy-threatening policy over the objections of both the Executive branch and the Legislative branch, by taking a vague statute and assigning it meanings it couldn't possible have had when it was written.

There is no more inappropriate place for judicial law-making than in the realm global environmental policy. That five lawyers think they can or should go there, when actual experts struggle to predict what the climate will give us 10 days from now, is contrary to what the Constitution ever intended.

CORRECTION: Justice SteVens' name was misspelled above, and has been corrected.

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