Welcome to this special emergency edition of The Phoenix - a newsletter for climate revolutionaries. Tonight, I’m pretty f’n pissed.
Judge Amy Coney Barrett, President Trump’s nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, is having her confirmation hearings this week.
Since Republicans control the US Senate, Barrett is all but certain to be confirmed – likely in the next three weeks before the presidential election – and would give conservatives a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court and broad authority to overturn judicial precedent on everything from health care to women’s rights to climate change. Since Barrett is only 48 years old and the court seat is a lifetime appointment, her thoughts could almost single-handedly shape the next three decades of US climate policy during a time when radical change “in all aspects of society” is required in order to preserve a stable climate system, according to the IPCC.
On Tuesday evening, Barrett was asked about climate change for the first time during the hearings. Watch her full response, in context:
Now, I confess I hadn’t been paying too much close attention to the hearings because I wanted to consciously carve out some emotional distance from what I was confident would be a complete shitshow, but this response stopped me in my tracks.
For someone who is a parent, professes a strong Catholic faith (like I was raised in), and who claims to be pro-life, this is a shocking denial of moral responsibility. Quite simply, if you're neutral on climate change, you're complicit in the collapse of the planetary ecosystem upon which the survival of every living thing depends. That is the opposite of being pro-life.
As a self-described “originalist” – someone whose preference is to interpret the Constitution as it was written back in 1789 – Barrett is even more scary. Eunice Foote, the woman credited with first discovering the greenhouse effect, wasn’t born until 1819. It reminds me of a line from a 2014 sermon on climate denial from American pastor John MacArthur, which recently went viral again: “God intended it to be a disposable planet.”
Barrett’s response instantly became a meme on climate twitter:
It’s the line “I’m certainly not a scientist” that is perhaps so surreal. This has been the standard, canned answer that climate deniers have given for years. But now it’s 2020. We’re in a pandemic. You don’t need to be a scientist to be able to listen to scientists. For someone whose ENTIRE JOB depends on carefully evaluating evidence, not having any “firm views” on climate change is an unrecoverable fatal flaw.
It’s a really big deal – and a sign of a complete failure of our democracy – to be confirming a climate denier to a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court during a moment when urgent climate action is an existential priority.
If confirmed, Barrett will likely rule on whether or not to uphold Massachusetts vs. EPA, the 2007 Supreme Court decision that gives the federal government the right to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Barrett could also effectively block or overturn future executive actions or legislation that a Biden Administration (or any future climate-friendly administration) might enact. Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest environmental law organization, issued a lengthy statement opposing her nomination that’s a good (and frightening) read.
This whole thing makes it clear that democracy as we know it in the United States is broken.
We need radical reforms to democracy to move quickly on the climate emergency and act with justice for the rights of people whose voices have been silenced for too long.
Automatic voter registration.
Removing the filibuster from the Senate.
An end to gerrymandering.
An expanded Supreme Court.
Abolishing the Electoral College.
Guaranteed representation in Congress for tribal Nations.
Statehood for DC and every US territory.
All of these would restore and strengthen voting rights for people of color and folks on the front lines of climate change. None of these actions should be controversial.