SCOTUS: Climate Change Free Speech - Key Cases

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

WASHINGTON, DC: Earlier today, Southeastern Legal Foundation filed friend of the court briefs in National Review v. Mann and CEI v. Mann, two of the most important First Amendment cases we have seen in years.

Few topics are more hotly debated in our country than “climate change” or “global warming.” SLF knows this debate well and has fought against the EPA’s unconstitutional overreach for years, culminating in its 2014 SLF’s landmark win against the EPA in UARG v. EPA where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the EPA greenhouse gas regulations as a gross exercise of executive overreach.

While we were litigating our case, emails known as the “Climategate” emails were published, exposing conspiracies among “climate scientists” to exclude key research from their work in establishing Michael Mann’s famous “hockey stick” climate graph that many, including the EPA, arguably relied upon when pushing greenhouse gas regulations. Climategate touched off a firestorm of negative publicity for climate scientists. For example, one study resulted a 300-page volume of statements by various scientists denouncing Michael Mann’s work in particular, or climate science in general. Some scientists even described the work as “fraud” or “fraudulent” and “dishonest” or “misleading.”

Despite the widespread public criticism, Michael Mann narrowed in only on comments made by several conservative media outlets and journalists which decried the “hockey stick” climate graph as “deceptive” and “fraudulent,” calling its creation “wrongdoing” and “misconduct,” and sued them for defamation.

The First Amendment protects vigorous discourse on matters of public concern. This is undisputed. As Justice Brandeis once famously wrote: “Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, [our Founders] eschewed silence coerced by law – the argument of force in its worst form.” Ignoring our country’s long history and court precedent protecting opinions critiquing matters of public concern, the lower court ruled in Mann’s favor and the defendants are now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case.

SLF filed friend of the court briefs supporting the defendants and urging the Supreme Court to hear these cases. As we explain in our briefs, the dangers of the decision below are as obvious as they are profound, and they demand the Court’s immediate attention. There is no public policy debate that is not replete with accusations of deception, dishonesty, bad faith, and misconduct by both sides. For every National Review post that calls one side misleading, there is a Slate column that calls the other side liars. For every Wall Street Journal editorial that calls a liberal a hypocrite, there is a New York Times editorial that calls a conservative a bigot. The lower court’s opinion invites defamation lawsuits over each of those subjective opinions.

Without Supreme Court intervention, we will see courts and juries inserting themselves into every hot-button political and scientific dispute, to allow politicians to sue their critics at will, and ultimately to chill and deter robust debate that is the lifeblood of our republic.

Click here for SCOTUS brief from SLF re: National Review

Click here for SCOTUS beief from SLF re: CEI

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