This is a long story that I’ll try to make short, because I’m trying to make a single, simple point.
Years ago shock jock and right-wing political commenter Mark Steyn, using the vehicle of the conservative magazine National Review, made disparaging remarks about climate scientist Michael Mann. These remarks were viewed by Mann and others as likely libelous. It is important to note that these remarks were both systematically and coincidentally part of larger efforts to disparage climate science, and climate scientists. I won’t discuss here why anyone would do that.
A law suit ensued, and the details of that suit are complicated and beyond the scope of this blog post, and, frankly, beyond my expertise as a non-lawyer.
More recently, the United States Senate Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, chaired by Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), conducted a hearing called “Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate.”
One of the witnesses called by Cruz to testify was Mark Steyn. It was not clear to me, at first, why Steyn was called as an expert witness. He is at most a political commenter, and has no verifiable expertise on climate science, or the nature of science and scientific inquiry. After reading his testimony, and seeing the hearings, however, I developed a hypothesis as to why Steyn was involved, though I’m not sure how unusual this action was, or how it could have been organized.
Current and recommended books on climate change.
The law suit in question is certainly an important law suit, because it speaks to how anti-science forces can be allowed, or not allowed, to attack scientists. I’m not sure what the legal ramifications of one decision or another might be. A recent similar law suit in Canada found in favor of the scientist being attacked, and that might have helped mitigate against the growing problem that young people looking into science careers must increasingly consider that they will not just be scientists, but targets of politically motivated attacks, sometimes personal.
Mark Steyn’s Racist Remarks About Two Judges
In his written Testimony, Steyn, who un ironically refers to himself as a “human rights activist” (he isn’t) takes to task Judge Natalia Combs Greene, who was on the DC Appeals court earlier in the history of the Mann law suit, using what might be considered racist code words (Note: Judge Greene is African American). He referred to the “benighted jurisdiction” in which “the case was assigned to Natalia Combs Greene, a since reprimanded landlord-and-tenant judge appointed by President Clinton…After a botched ruling in which she confused the parties, she said the case was “complicated” and shuffled it off on a colleague…”
Yes, the dog-whistles are hard to hear, but that is why we call them dog whistles. The mention of appointment of a confused, shuffling judge by a Democratic president with links to the landlord-tenant court is clear enough, though, that when Steyn then moves on to Judge Vanessa Ruiz, a hispanic judge who currently sits on the court, we can see similar echoes of intolerance and innuendo. According to Steyn’s written Congressional testimony, “Judge Ruiz is an activist judge [with] an appalling backlog of cases” and various failings. “…it may be,” he told Congress, “that the judge is just an incompetent sloth who’s spending far too much time with the Carnegie Endowment working on world peace.”
Elsewhere in the testimony, Steyn claims Judge Greene “is not competent to rule” and “Judge Vanessa Ruiz is so lethargic that … global warming will have kicked in” first. Steyn goes further to note that the issue at hand in this law suit properly belongs in what the English judge Lord Moulton referred to as the “Domain of Manners.” This is the set of social rules by which proper people, proper English people, act properly, without having to be told how to act by some judge.
It is hard to observe these comments and not come away feeling assailed by class bias, racist innuendo, and self serving biased rhetoric.
Mark Steyn’s Use Of Ted Cruz’s Congressional Committee
But, actually, I digress, because while the racist subtext is important, it is not what struck me as most odd. What struck me as odd was the apparent fact that Mark Steyn appeared before the US Congress in order to argue his side of a law suit in the Washington DC Appeals Court. I assume that to some extent members of congress have some idea of what a given witness will provide in a hearing, so a second question emerges. Did the majority in this subcommittee intentionally provide a litigant in a law suit with the opportunity to argue their case?
And Steyn does use his written and oral testimony to argue the case, in a few ways. First, he simply argues that the law suit is invalid, and in a few places, argues that people should view Dr. Mann suspiciously. In other words, he says that he, Steyn, is right, and Mann is both wrong and a bad person. Second, he argues as I note above, and in other places in the testimony, that the judges on the Appeals Court are incompetent and biased in various ways. Third, he argues that the Washington DC Appeals Court is itself a rather messed-up judicial body. He told the US Congress that he has been “ensnared in the dysfunctional court system of the District of Columbia,” which is “a sclerotic and incompetent … court system … incapable of serving the people it’s meant to serve.,” which has “feckless lethargic judges … reward serial plaintiffs for nuisance suits.” And so on.
So, here is my question. Is this normal? Do people get to argue their legal cases in front of Congress? Does Congress normally, or even occasionally, bring people in as witnesses for this purpose? Or is this simply Mark Steyn taking advantage of the odd fact that he was asked to testify as an expert in something he admitted (as part of his testimony) that he is not an expert on?
Does Mark Steyn Need Better Legal Advice?
I asked around a bit, imposing on colleagues who have some experience with congressional testimony and various legal affairs. The general consensus seems to be that while grandstanding before congress is common, arguing your legal case in this manner is not. Indeed, one lawyer told me that he would never advise a client to do what Steyn has done (or, for that matter, what he does here) while in the middle of a court case. I has also been suggested that Steyn has, perhaps, been filing his briefings in the case separately from the other defendants precisely because they do not agree with his shock-jock strategy.
Was Ted Cruz using Mark Steyn as a tool? Was Mark Steyn using the Congress of the United States of America as a tool? Either seems a possibility. My advice to both: If you are going to use a tool, try to find a sharp one.