Amy Coney Barrett faces recusal questions over links to Shell
Amy Coney Barrett stands ready to make critical decisions about whether oil and gas companies will be held accountable for the effects of the climate crisis once she is upheld in the Supreme Court despite having recognized in the past that she has a conflict of interest in Cases with Royal Dutch Shell.
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As an appellate judge, Barrett - who is expected to be confirmed in the Supreme Court Monday - has withdrawn from cases involving four Shell companies because her father was an attorney at Shell Oil Company.
Industry experts and attorneys have raised concerns - and doubts - whether Barrett would withdraw from the cases after joining the court, in part because there are no rules for Supreme Court judges to compel them.
Barrett was pushed on the matter on written questions by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, and would not undertake to withdraw from cases in the future.
"The question of rejection is a threshold question of law that must be addressed in the context of the facts of the case," she wrote. “As Justiz Ginsburg described the process that Supreme Court justices go through when deciding on reuse, this includes reading the statute, reviewing precedents and consulting colleagues. As a seated judge and a candidate for the judiciary, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on abstract legal questions or hypotheses. "
Barrett has not withdrawn in the past from cases involving the oil industry's most powerful lobby group, the American Petroleum Institute, despite the fact that her father served as an "active member" of the group's exploration and production law subcommittee as recently as 2016 and twice as its chairman.
Already at her confirmation hearing in which she refused to accept science that shows humans are dangerously heating the planet, environmentalists have raised concerns about Barrett's handling of environmental issues and said she cannot speak up on climate change, because it is a "very controversial matter of public debate". She separately stated that she had no "firm views" on climate change.
Their views even stand behind most mainstream Republicans, many of whom have stopped denying climate change and instead have begun to downplay its effects or to suggest that a free market and new technology will be enough to fix the problem.
In the very likely event that she will be upheld, Barrett's decision on whether she will withdraw from cases with Shell because of her conflict will be known relatively soon, as the Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a case involving the city Baltimore Big Oil is suing companies, including Shell, for damage related to the climate crisis.
"Judge Barrett's evasive maneuvers last week and answering our questions for the record may be what it took the Senate Republicans to get this candidate through for their big donors, but that's not good for a litigation court a fair trial and process must provide impartial decision-making, ”said Whitehouse. “With the Senate rushing headlong to get her pre-election confirmation, we have to wonder whether she will re-use herself in an unethical court on matters involving Shell subsidiaries or the American Petroleum Institute. especially where their evasive maneuvers against climate change were in line with industry propaganda. "
At the center of the Baltimore case - the outcome of which is likely to influence similar legal challenges in a dozen other litigation across the country - is the question of whether cities and states can use state laws to claim damages for damage caused by the climate crisis they have been accused of on businesses.
According to Scotusblog, the Supreme Court case focuses on a narrow and technical procedural issue under federal law. Barrett's handling of the case is being closely watched, however, also because another conservative judiciary, Justice Samuel Alito, has withdrawn from the case.
Out of 16 lawsuits filed by state and local governments wanting the courts to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the effects of the climate crisis, 13 name Shell.
Jean Su, director of energy justice and attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that if Barrett does not back out on cases the company is involved in, "it is a real expression of the deciphering of the ethics of this court."
"Now when you have the chief legal department and judges who violate fairly strict and dry ethical rules, you are very discrediting the judiciary," Su said. "It will be a sign that the highest court in the country is political."
Helen Kang, a law professor and director of the environmental law and justice clinic at Golden Gate University School of Law, said that if Barrett had previously reused, "it should reuse itself if circumstances haven't changed."
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