Pharyngula

Our judiciary at work

Justice Scalia: “I told you I’m not a scientist. That’s why I don’t want to deal with global warming.”

He’s quite right, actually: he’s not a scientist, nor should we expect him to be. That’s why our government ought to be served by competent scientific advisors…and why it’s a shame that Scalia will probably think he’s doing his job if he listens to people from hack tanks like CEI and the Heritage Foundation.

Comments

  1. #1 mfaerber
    November 30, 2006

    Since he does have to deal with it, you’d think that he’d spend some time devoted to learning about it. Especially seeing as it’s kinda, you know, important.

  2. #2 Great White Wonder
    November 30, 2006

    I bet you that Scalia turns out to be an expert on fetal pain.

  3. #3 theo
    November 30, 2006

    Nah, he’ll just punt the science to his clerks, who have undergraduate degrees in Political Science.

    (But more importantly, were Federalist Society members at some of the top law schools in the country.)

  4. #4 Stogoe
    November 30, 2006

    And graduated from Bob Jones, Liberty, or Pensacola Christian.

  5. #5 Great White Wonder
    November 30, 2006

    Expecting the Justices to be keeping the layers of the atmosphere straight or even pretending that they can pay attention to the legal issues is asking a bit much.

    Scalia is doing nothing more than trying to find out if he can take BushCo’s side on this matter because Scalia associates environmentalism with dirty hippies and abuses of the commerce clause at the expense of state’s rights.

    So Scalia tries to argue that the writers of the statute never imagined that CO2 was an “air pollutant” because, hey, all that C02 is in the air right now and it ain’t hurting anybody. And the attorney correctly slaps Scalia down, pointing out that according to the statute an “air pollutant” is any chemical emitted into the ambient air which causes harm.

    All that’s left to do, really, is for the Justices to look at how many experts agree that C02 emissions are contributing to a rise in global temperatures, versus how many experts disagree, and whether any experts on either side are biased and less trustworthy for any reason.

    It’s pretty straightforward and if Scalia can get his moral compass adjusted and stop acting like an ignorant lying prick he can lightly slap his Republican enablers in their fat fundie faces.

  6. #6 Monkey
    November 30, 2006

    He should listen to people who believe that they came from monkeys.

  7. #7 MikeG
    November 30, 2006

    Our judiciary is hard at work, working almost as hard as the Pharyngula spam filter.

  8. #8 Mayonaise
    November 30, 2006

    He should focus on the Constitution. The Constitution isn’t some holy writ that will guide us through thick and thin. But for some reason (commitment device, policy stabilizer, who knows?) it works. If the laws violate the Constitution, he should strike them down for great justice. Otherwise, if he isn’t convinced of its worth beyond some extraordinary threshold (see abortion) he should avoid subverting the SCOTUS’s purpose, and cast his vote for more intelligent politicians.

    There’s a reason why a large number of judges are set for life, apart from the electorate and corporate influence. And there’s a reason (at least in principle) why legislators are tied to the money, think tanks, and lobbyists.

    That said, I do think our representatives could benefit from a little science.

  9. #9 Hank Roberts
    November 30, 2006

    Yeah, they’re getting advice like wally the spammer above, who recommends spending a dollar to get eighty cents back via bathroom remodeling and is no doubt spamming scam mortgage schemes. Nuke user, please!

  10. #10 Michael Hopkins
    November 30, 2006

    I don’t see why Justice Scalia even needs to understand global warming (for purposes of the case). What the plaintiffs are asking for is for the law be enforced as written. If I understand the issue correctly, the law says that if x is emitted and the EPA’s scientific expertise determines it is harmful that appropriate regulations will be drafted.
    It seems that the administration here wants harmful to mean something other than harmful.

  11. #11 Mary
    December 1, 2006

    So Scalia tries to argue that the writers of the statute never imagined that CO2 was an “air pollutant” because, hey, all that C02 is in the air right now and it ain’t hurting anybody.

    When I heard this on the news, I just wanted to ask the guy how much time he’d like to spend in a room where the oxygen in the air had been replaced with CO2. My guess is – not long.

  12. #12 Bob O'H
    December 1, 2006

    If Scalia doesn’t feel himself confident enough to judge scientific matters, then he should excuse himself from the case. Just because he can’t judge a case doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be judged.

    I hope you can see where this is going. 🙂

    Bob

  13. #13 CL
    December 1, 2006

    Stogoe: whatever you may think of Scalia, that’s an insult to his clerks. They are, as are just about all Supreme Court clerks, ridiculously well-qualified for their jobs.

  14. #14 Robin Levett
    December 1, 2006

    GWW said:

    So Scalia tries to argue that the writers of the statute never imagined that CO2 was an “air pollutant” because, hey, all that C02 is in the air right now and it ain’t hurting anybody. And the attorney correctly slaps Scalia down, pointing out that according to the statute an “air pollutant” is any chemical emitted into the ambient air which causes harm.

    although others here have said similar.

    It is the Supreme’s job to test each party’s case by putting to them apparently strong points from the other side’s brief, as well as their own views and tentative conclusions.

    Have any of you read the transcript? Later (p44 l17 onwards), after having been corrected on this by analogy with acid rain, he says:-

    Can I ask about that? I found persuasive Solicitor General Garre’s (sic – he meant Milkey, since he’s talking to Garre] point that in the acid rain context, it isn’t air pollution that harms health, but rather it is the effect of the pollutant after it leaves the air and produces the acid rain. Is there anything wrong with that response?

    and doesn’t actually sound too convinced by the reply. He might have wanted a convincing reply so he could rule against the states – but didn’t get one.

    Scalia has his problems as a Supreme; but AFAIK (but I’m only a UK lawyer) he doesn’t generally rule flat against what he is persuaded to be the legal merits.

  15. #15 Jud
    December 1, 2006

    Re CL’s point in response to Stogoe, see the link: http://www.abovethelaw.com/2006/09/supreme_court_clerk_hiring_upd.php#more

    Folks should try reading the transcript before insulting Scalia’s intelligence. Believe me, I have no great love for his judicial philosophy, but one thing he ain’t is dumb. The example about CO2 being harmful if it filled the room you were in is something Scalia himself said, and distinguished (with the agreement of counsel) as being different from this case – no one is arguing that the harm from CO2 in this case would be due to suffocation.

    That Scalia is likely to aid and abet the current Administration in its preference for inaction regarding global warming, I don’t doubt. On the other hand, I also doubt that those members of the SCOTUS who will vote to allow EPA to regulate CO2 levels will do so on the grounds of a qualitatively better understanding of atmospheric science than Justice Scalia.

    By the way, clearing up some misconceptions: If a judge and his law clerks feel the need for additional subject matter education, they can hire experts to assist the court. Usually this happens at the trial court level, so that sufficient factual material to clearly delineate the legal issue is available to the courts up the appellate chain.

  16. #16 Berger
    December 1, 2006

    Five men on the Supreme Court rule your lives.

    They alone determine what ultimately passes Constitutional muster.

    YOU are powerless under this system. What you vote for can be nullified by their will.

  17. #17 Paul
    December 1, 2006

    Of course, sometimes they nullify what you vote against.

    And states change the law to nullify/circumvent what they rule (as has happened in the wake of Kelo vs New London, for example).

    And last I looked, there was still one woman on the panel (hang on in there, Justice Ginsberg).

    The Illuminati they ain’t.

  18. #18 Paul
    December 1, 2006

    PS: And as for being powerless – a more considered choice of commander in chief next time (not to mention the composition of the Senate) gives you, the voter, a lot of power to decide how the SCOTUS will rule for the next X number of years.

    Checks and balances, who’da thunk it?

    If there’s one thing on this planet that WAS intelligently designed, it’s the US Constitution.

  19. #19 Ben
    December 1, 2006

    While not a Scalia fan AT ALL.. in even the least.. I get the feeling that he is somewhat guided by a judicial philosophy, even though I disagree with it. He seems to have some consistancy. Clearance Thomas simply votes the right wing party line. I’m sure I could find cases that run directly counter to his decision on another case… because he votes politically not judiciously. I think Thomas’ allegiance goes something like this: GOP, GOD, Ego, and some place down near the bottom is the law. I get the same sense from Alito, but it’s really to early to tell. The book is still out on Roberts… I hope that my impression that he is a jurist first and partisan second is correct.

  20. #20 Caledonian
    December 1, 2006

    Five men on the Supreme Court rule your lives.

    They alone determine what ultimately passes Constitutional muster.

    YOU are powerless under this system. What you vote for can be nullified by their will.

    And they’re appointed for life. Few people consider the full ramifications of such appointment.

  21. #21 Gerard Harbison
    December 1, 2006

    If all the O2 in the room were replaced by N2, you’d die too. Ditto with He, Ar, etc. Are they pollutants?

    Moreover, if all the O2 in the room were replaced with nothing, you’d die at the same rate. So nothing is a pollutant, I guess.

    Rather than quibble about whether the clean air act should be extended to cover something it clearly wasn’t intended to cover, if CO2 emission is deemed to be a problem, pass some legislation to regulate CO2 emission.

    Gerry, recklessly polluting the atmosphere at a rate of approximately 250 mL CO2 by volume at 1 bar pressure every minute.

  22. #22 mirror
    December 1, 2006

    Actually, it is the every Justice’s responsibility and duty to review and attempt to understand the record handed up by the lower courts, a record which will include ample testimony by experts explaining the basic scientific issues in both complex and simple terms meant for laypersons to understand. There is a basic procedure set out for how judges review, interpret, and weight expert testimony. The settled law requires judges to rely on scientific experts to fill gaps in their knowledge.

    Scalia is deliberately playing the joker frat boy here to try to cut the scientists down a notch or two by insulting the very language of the discipline. What an insecure prick.

  23. #23 stogoe
    December 1, 2006

    White House interns are plucked from the ranks of these fine ‘learning’ institutions. If they’re good enough for our preznit Codpiece Accomplished, why not for the guy who flipped off free speech? [/snark, although only partly]

  24. #24 mark
    December 1, 2006

    Before despairing of our judicial system, remember the example of how it worked exactly as it should–when BushJr appointee John E. Jones III made a decision founded soundly upon the Constitution, not, as giddy Creationists hoped, upon conservative extremist ideology.

  25. #25 MattXIV
    December 1, 2006

    Ben,

    I think you’ve mixed up Scalia and Thomas’s voting records. For example, both Scalia and Thomas (along with O’Connor and Rehnquist and Kennedy) voted for restrictive views of the commerce clause in Lopez (which dealt with gun control under the commerce clause) and Morrison (which dealt with hate crime laws under the commerce clause), but in Raich (which dealt with medical marijuana under the commerce clause), Scalia joined Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Ginsberg, and Breyer to support a broad interpretation of the commerce clause to allow the prohibition of intrastate medical marijuana programs under federal law.

    Others,

    Since it sounds like not everybody here knows, the question the court is considering is one of statutory law, so there aren’t any Constitutional issues involved. Specifically, the EPA’s internal process for setting air quality regulations under the Clean Air Act decided that it didn’t have the the statuatory authority to regulate a set of greenhouse gasses when a request was made for them to consider regulating them. The gov’t of Massachusetts is suing the EPA because it believes that the EPA does have the statuatory authority and the court should require the EPA to reconsider the petition on the grounds that the reason it gave for rejecting it was not valid.

  26. #26 Leon
    December 1, 2006

    What bothers me about Scalia’s statement isn’t that he’s not a scientist or doesn’t really understand the issues at hand. What bothers me is that he’s suggesting he can’t be bothered to learn the subject matter. I’m sorry, sir, but when you’re going to rule on a case, it’s part of your job to familiarize yourself with what it’s about. You don’t need to become an expert or anything, but to publicly show impatience and disregard for what the experts are telling you isn’t just rude, but unprofessional.

    About the Supreme Court making decisions we have to live with but have no power over…that’s the way it’s supposed to work, and really, it’s a good thing in the long term. Part of the Sup Ct’s job is to act as a restraint to public opinion when it goes too far. Of course it also means you can have a Court that falls too far out of step with the mainstream, but that can correct itself over time depending who the country puts in the White House and on the Senate floor.

  27. #27 Robin Levett
    December 2, 2006

    Leon:

    What bothers me about Scalia’s statement isn’t that he’s not a scientist or doesn’t really understand the issues at hand. What bothers me is that he’s suggesting he can’t be bothered to learn the subject matter. I’m sorry, sir, but when you’re going to rule on a case, it’s part of your job to familiarize yourself with what it’s about. You don’t need to become an expert or anything, but to publicly show impatience and disregard for what the experts are telling you isn’t just rude, but unprofessional.

    Have you read the rest of the transcript? Chris Mooney has quote-mined Scalia here.

  28. #28 Leon
    December 5, 2006

    Really! No, I haven’t read the transcript. If that’s the case, then it sounds like we’ve been getting worked up over nothing.

  29. #29 Organic Chemistry
    February 10, 2007

    Find me an “unbiased source” and i will show you someone who is selling something.

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