The confirmation of new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has stirred great alarm among environmental advocates. As a new court member, she cements a conservative majority generally unsympathetic to strong environmental protection laws. She also has shown a readiness in her previous judicial decisions to revive troubling old legal doctrines which make environmental regulations harder to adopt and enforce.
National League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski called her confirmation part of a “partisan takeover of the courts” by the current president and Republican Senate, which places “climate action on the chopping block.”
New Justice Barrett’s personal judicial record, while sparser than most jurists who have been confirmed to the nation’s highest court, shows specific troubling points from an environmental protection perspective. Among others, she appears willing to hew to an old interpretation of congressional power which would bar federal statutes from delegating authority to administrative agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency, to fill in the details of implementing broad laws like the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. She has also joined in Court of Appeals decisions reading the scope of those laws narrowly, for example in voiding protection for important wetlands.
It’s notoriously difficult to predict a Supreme Court appointee’s future rulings on the high court. However, legal experts’ reading of new Justice Barrett’s tendencies are not encouraging.
Though the damage Barrett may do cannot be undone, to prevent future such appointments and to protect the legacy of environmental protections in American law, all analysts agree: it is urgently necessary for pro-environment champions to take back the presidency and the U.S. Senate majority on November 3.