3 Things to Know About Neil Gorsuch, the Supreme Court, and Climate Action

by Rachel Rye Butler

February 1, 2017

Trump’s recently announced nominee to the Supreme Court is supposed to seem like a moderate choice next to the rest of his extreme administration — he’s not.

Immigration Ban Resistance

An activist holds up a "RESIST" sign outside the Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C. during a rally opposing Donald Trump's Muslim immigration ban.

Amanda Mason

UPDATE April 7, 2017: The Senate has confirmed Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, but the fight for our climate and communities is far from over. Join the resistance today!

Last night, Donald Trump announced the nomination of Tenth Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice. If confirmed by the Senate, Gorsuch would occupy the seat left vacant since February 2016 following the death of Antonin Scalia. In an unprecedented move last year, President Obama’s nomination for the same seat, Merrick Garland, was denied a hearing by Senate Republicans.

Or to put it bluntly, in a total affront to our democracy, GOP lawmakers are now following through on their plan to steal a Supreme Court justice from President Obama after shirking their duty to consider his nominee for the last year.

Fair courts — and especially the Supreme Court — are key to the system of checks and balances that regulate executive and legislative power and a foundational part of our democracy.

Next to the rest of the nominees to Trump’s corporate cabinet — including seasoned racists like Jeff Sessions, white supremacists like Steve Bannon, and oil CEOs like Rex Tillerson — Gorsuch may seem like a less extreme choice. But don’t be fooled — his ties to climate-denying groups like the Heritage Foundation and the Koch brothers’ network make him a serious threat to civil rights at a time when we need a Supreme Court that puts people above corporate interests more than ever.

Here are three things to know.

1. The Supreme Court Has a Big Role in Fighting Climate Change

Whether or not the Clean Power Plan, a hallmark of President Obama’s climate action plan, will go through to full implementation will largely fall to the Supreme Court (SCOTUS).

Trump has said he will order the Environmental Protection Agency to consider the Clean Power Plan illegal (but has not made it clear whether that would be before or after he dismantles the EPA completely) and to stop its implementation. But what SCOTUS would actually consider is the EPA’s ability to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and whether the plan allows sufficient leeway for states to regulate power generation.

SCOTUS has less say in whether or not Trump can actually “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement, but it plays an important role in making sure the United States can meet its Paris commitments via the Clean Power Plan. Even if Trump is successful in weakening the Paris Climate Agreement to some degree, Clean Power Plan implementation could still go through if SCOTUS upholds it.

If that happens, the Clean Power Plan would cut U.S. carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030.

2. People — and Members of Congress — Are Already Resisting

People are pushing bank to defend our democracy and the process laid out in our Constitution for appointing a new justice to the highest court in the land.

Senators Merkley and Schumer have pledged to filibuster any SCOTUS nominations that aren’t Merrick Garland, the judge President Obama nominated and GOP Senators refused to even hold a hearing for.

Some Democratic lawmakers already joined a rally outside the Supreme Court protesting Trump’s executive order banning Muslim immigrants and refugees from entering the country this week. More demonstrations are expected outside the Supreme Court and at federal courthouses around the country, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to stop.

3. There’s Still a Way to Fight for Climate Action

SCOTUS is supposed to act as a check against the presidency and Congress. With Trump in the White House and spineless Congress members willing to let him get away with anything, a SCOTUS that protects civil rights and our climate from corporate interests is more necessary than ever.

That’s not what we’re getting with Gorsuch as the nominee, which makes our continued fight to defend our democracy even more important. As the SCOTUS nomination progresses, it is up to the people to be the check on Trump’s power that Congress has failed to be.

Rachel Rye Butler

By Rachel Rye Butler

Rachel Rye Butler is a campaigner at Greenpeace USA

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