WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to take up a procedural issue on Tuesday, January 19 related to a lawsuit brought by the city of Baltimore seeking to hold oil and gas companies accountable for the climate change harms their products have caused. Justice Samuel Alito, who owns shares in ConocoPhillips and other oil and gas companies, has already recused himself. Given her connections to the oil and gas industry, Justice Amy Coney Barrett should do the same.
To promote public confidence in the court system, U.S. law provides for justices to recuse themselves in an array of circumstances, including whenever their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” Unlike lower federal court judges, who must abide by strict ethical rules designed to avoid conflicts of interest, or even appearances of such conflicts, Supreme Court justices make their own recusal decisions on a case-by-case basis.
“Barrett posing as an impartial judge in this hearing for climate accountability is about as safe as the Big Bad Wolf giving Little Red Riding Hood directions to Grandma’s house,” said Lindsay Meiman, U.S. communications manager at 350.org. “We demand Barrett immediately recuse herself of any and all cases concerning climate and the fossil fuel industry, starting with the upcoming Baltimore vs. Big Oil hearing.”
“We urge Justice Barrett to heed both precedent and common sense and join Justice Alito in recusing herself from this case brought against Big Oil,” said Kathy Mulvey, accountability campaign director in the Climate and Energy Program at UCS. “It’s well known that Justice Barrett’s father worked for decades as an attorney at Shell Oil, a named defendant in the case. He also played an active role in the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s main U.S. lobby group, which is funded by numerous defendants in the Baltimore suit and has submitted an amicus curiae brief in support of their petition to the Supreme Court. These deep and long-standing conflicts of interest have led Justice Barrett to recuse herself from cases regarding Shell in the past. Her obligation to judicial impartiality should lead her to do the same here. Baltimore residents deserve access to impartial justice for the climate harms they are suffering.”
“The Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement believes that in order to ensure a fair process, a justice with such significant connections to the fossil fuel industry must recuse herself,” said Nabeehah Azeez, an organizer with the BPCM. “Baltimore City is already feeling the impacts of climate change in severe storms and flooding, sewage backups and overflows, heatwaves, and polluted air. Baltimore deserves a fair trial on the basis of climate justice.”
“Consistent compliance with the recusal statute is critical for the proper functioning of our court system and our democracy,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Climate Law Institute at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Given her father’s long-term work for Shell and the American Petroleum Institute, Justice Barrett should recuse herself from this case and all future cases involving the oil industry.”