After months of political posturing, the targeted attack by several attorneys general against the free speech and free association rights of public policy organizations and private companies has ended. But the fight to preserve free speech rights is not over.
In March, attorneys general from fifteen states, including Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, joined with attorneys general from the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands to punish organizations that they claim have spread misinformation about the existence and consequences of global warming.
Known as Attorneys General United For Clean Power, the group is “dedicated to coming up with creative ways to enforce laws being flouted by the fossil fuels industry and their allies in their short-sighted efforts to put profits above the interests of the American people and the integrity of our financial markets,” said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman at the coalition’s inauguratory press conference, in which the attorneys general were joined by climate change propagandist and former Vice President Al Gore.
The group blames man-caused climate change for more violent storms and receding ice shelves in the Arctic, despite studies from reputable scientists that climate change is not causing extreme weather and that the polar ice caps have not receded since 1979, the first year NASA satellite data was collected.
“We have heard the scientists,” said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. “There is no dispute [about global warming], but there is confusion – confusion sown by those with an interest in profiting from the confusion and creating misconceptions in the eyes of the American public.”
Shortly after the formation of the coalition, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude E. Walker served subpoenas on Exxon and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think-tank that does climate research. It has published studies critical of climate change.
The subpoena demanded ten years of communications, research, and, perhaps most worrisomely, donor information. CEI President Kent Lassman called the subpoena a “baseless fishing expedition” and a “flagrant violation” of the First Amendment.
Thankfully, Attorney General Walker recently withdrew his subpoenas. CEI is seeking court-imposed sanctions against the attorney general.
Many are concerned that the inquisition mounted against certain political ideologies will create a chilling effect on public policy organizations. It is likely that think tanks, academics, and policymakers will think twice before conducting research and publishing studies and policy recommendations that contradict politically correct narratives.
There is little disagreement among legal scholars that research published by think tanks is constitutionally protected speech. The free exchange of ideas that is promoted by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is necessary for a constitutional republic. The use of persuasion in open public discourse allows for the best ideas to supersede bad ideas.
Despite an entire apparatus of schools and media outlets that disseminate global warming propaganda, climate alarmists are losing the debate in the public square. Less than half of Americans believe the government should be doing more to mitigate climate change, and the number of Americans who believe climate change is a serious problem is declining.
Not content with using persuasion to win arguments, Attorneys General United for Clean Power decided to use the force of law to criminalize the viewpoints of their political opponents.
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson is well-acquainted with using the force of law to subdue those with whom he disagrees. Ferguson has been embroiled in a legal battle with Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who declined to provide her creative services for a same-sex wedding ceremony. He also filed an amicus brief in the lawsuit against an Olympia pharmacy that declined to dispense abortifacients.
“While Ferguson may be sincerely concerned about climate change, the idea of the attorney general filing lawsuits against people who have different perspectives is highly problematic,” said FPIW’s Executive Director Joseph Backholm. “We should all be concerned about the instinct of our elected officials to say there is only one, absolute, infallible position on these issues that is above critique.”
It remains to be seen what will be the next steps of Attorneys General United for Clean Power. Though Competitive Enterprise Institute and Exxon won the first battle, the attorneys general have now paved the way for using the legal system to silence people with opposing views. That should be concerning to every American who values our fundamental rights.