Long after Trump is a footnote in history, his impact on the environment will still be felt. For progressives and moderates alike, the horrors of a Trump presidency are cloaked in judicial robes.
Trump, in consort with the Senate Republicans, will have appointed nearly one in four federal judges and most probably three of nine justices on the US Supreme Court by the end of his first term.
Should Amy Coney Barrett be confirmed to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the US Supreme Court will take on a decidedly conservative bent. With her confirmation, federal courts will become a vastly different venue in which to debate environmental regulation.
Unlike Justice Kavanaugh, Coney Barrett appears never to have decided nor written about any environmental law cases. Therefore, how she would rule on climate-related matters as a Supreme Court justice must be inferred from her various legal writings and lectures.
President Trump and a coffle of Republican senators have made it clear that —within weeks—they will nominate and confirm a candidate to fill the vacancy on the US Supreme Court left in the wake of Justice Ginsburg's death. Predictably the decision—being so close to the November election—is proving an unpopular one with Democrats.
Justice Ginsburg earned her reputation as a champion of women's rights. A leading progressive through-out her 27 years on the Supreme Court, she enjoyed a close personal friendship with the court's leading conservative—Justice Antonin Scalia. As Jennifer Senior writes, they were one of Washington's storied odd couples…they went to the opera together, they spent New Year's Eve together, they once spent time together atop an elephant. There's a lesson in their friendship that we would all do well to learn.
The loss to the nation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg is incalculable. What can be counted on, however, is that the balance between conservative and liberal justices will shift once Trump's nominee takes her place on the high court bench. It will be six conservatives and three liberals.
The first debate between President Trump and former Vice President Biden will occur on the 29th of September. In advance of the encounter, 70 Democratic members of Congress sent a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates asking it to publicly call on the moderators to include climate in the topics that will be addressed during the debates. More precisely, they are requesting that climate be made a centerpiece of the debates.
In their letter, the lawmakers refer to Earth's warming as a clear and present danger:
Climate change is no longer an issue that is looming in the distance. It is here… in the wildfires ravaging the West, the heatwaves gripping much of the nation, the hurricanes and [d]erechos devastating commun-ities, and extreme flooding and drought threatening lives and livelihoods. Not to mention the grave environmental injustices impacting people of color…
The request breaks with precedent. Once chosen by the Commission, the moderators are free to frame the debates as they see fit. The signatories are now waiting for the Commission's response. It is hard to imagine any year better suited to breaking precedents than 2020.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.