To cap off what is possibly the most right-wing judicial term in over a century, the highest court in the land has dealt yet another massive blow to the progression of common-sense liberal governance. In today’s ruling in the case West Virginia v. EPA, Chief Justice John Roberts and his concurring right-wing colleagues devastated the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect Americans against climate change in a major step toward their long-term goal of destroying the administrative state.
The case concerns the ability of the EPA to enact the Clean Air Act through limiting greenhouse gas pollution at power plants, an ability critical to the net-zero emission goals that must be met to keep the planet from passing the 1.5℃ temperature increase threshold beyond which scientists say the likelihood of catastrophic drought, wildfires, heat waves, and hurricanes significantly expands.
In her dissenting opinion joined by Justices Sotomayor and Breyer, Elena Kagan castigated the majority for depriving the EPA of “the power needed — and the power granted — to curb the emission of greenhouse gasses. In doing so, Kagan believes that SCOTUS “appoints itself — instead of Congress or the expert agency — the decision-maker on climate policy” and thereby actively harms the necessary efforts to combat “the most pressing environmental challenge of our time.”
The decision once again signals SCOTUS’s willingness to ignore overwhelming public opinion. In a recent poll from Data for Progress, it was found that 60 percent of voters believe the EPA should be allowed to regulate air pollution that contributes to climate change. Just as the court have disregarded the vast majority of Americans on the issues of abortion and gun control, so do they once more on climate change.
Arguably even more concerning though is how the decision in this case will be used as precedence in other cases soon to appear in front of the court. One of these cases, also involving the issue of environmental protection, is the ongoing bid by 15 Republican state attorneys general to challenge the ability of the government to cut auto pollution by compelling automakers to sell more electric vehicles.
The effort is led by none other than Texas’s very own Ken Paxton, who has a long and disturbing history of prioritizing the interests of fossil fuels companies over justice for normal people. Using the precedent set by West Virginia v. EPA, the right-wing SCOTUS will almost certainly make a ruling that further destroys the government’s ability to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court is unlikely to stop at environmental regulations. In an interview with the Marketplace podcast, UCLA administrative law professor Blake Emerson detailed how the West Virginia v. EPA case signals how the conservative justices are using “long-dead” anti-government arguments from the 1930s that were attempting to stop the New Deal but are now being revitalized “in an effort to constrain the powers of the federal government to regulate private businesses.”
This openly corrupt, corporatist philosophy will likely be applied by the conservative majority in every administrative law case that comes before the court, and the power of the federal government to protect Americans from dangers like defective drugs, securities fraud, and unsafe work zones will eventually be chipped away entirely unless Congress acts.
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