Deferring To The Executive Branch On Global Warming


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PUBLISHED ON: June 29, 2011

On Monday, June 20, 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in what has been identified as a bellwether climate change case, American Electric Power Co. v. Connecticut. Eight states, New York City and three land trusts had sued several years before seeking abatement of emissions from some of the largest national emitters of CO2 and other greenhouse gases: fossil fuel-fired power plants located in 20 upwind states.

The unanimous opinion (Justice Sonia Sotomayor recused herself), written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, essentially deferred to the executive branch on the issue. The initial district court holding had dismissed the case as a political question. The recent Supreme Court decision did essentially the same thing, only based upon a slightly different legal premise.