Story at a glance
- Amy Coney Barrett is President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
- During her confirmation hearings, Barrett was asked twice about climate change and refused to comment.
- The scientific community has established that climate change is real and Americans are increasingly taking the issue seriously.
The Democratic candidate for Vice President and Republican pick for the Supreme Court went back and forth during the Senate confirmation hearings on science, providing a glimpse of what could be the future relationship between the two branches of government.
Sen. Kamala Harris: Do you accept that COVID-19 is infectious?
Amy Coney Barrett: Yes, I do accept COVID-19 is infectious...it’s an obvious fact
Harris: Do you accept that smoking causes cancer?
Barrett: I’m not sure exactly where you’re going with this...Yes, every package [of] cigarettes warns that smoking causes cancer.
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Harris: And do you believe that climate change is happening and is threatening the air we breathe and the water we drink?
Barrett: You have asked me a series of questions that are completely uncontroversial...and then trying to analogize that to elicit an opinion from me that is on a very contentious matter of public debate and I will not do that. I will not express a view on a matter of public policy, especially one that is politically controversial.
Harris: Thank you Judge Barrett. You’ve made your point clear that you believe it’s a debatable point.
The scientific community has come to a consensus on all three questions and established that climate change is happening, but they are not necessarily uncontroversial. President Trump, who nominated Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, has openly contradicted his own administration's public health experts on COVID-19 and called climate change "a hoax.” He’s also called it “not a hoax,” and, in the first presidential debate, the President admitted that humans do play a role in climate change.
Barrett isn’t wrong that climate change has been “a very contentious matter of public debate” and “politically controversial.” But a recent poll by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that a majority of Americans say that activity is causing climate change and more Americans are likely to call climate change a crisis than five years ago.
While Barrett declined to comment on “a matter of public policy” in the case of climate change (but not in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic and smoking), she told Sen. John Kennedy, who asked a similar question, "I have read things about climate change — I would not say I have firm views on it.”
The question is likely to come up again if she is confirmed, The New York Times’s John Schwartz noted.
“In past decisions, the justices have accepted that human-caused climate change is occurring and determined that the Environmental Protection Agency can regulate greenhouse gases in the case Massachusetts v. E.P.A., but a more conservative Supreme Court might revisit the issue,” said Schwartz.
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