Commentary

AG Accuses CEI of Wasting His Time in Ongoing Global Warming Subpoena Saga

By Sam Kazman | June 9, 2016 | 11:03am EDT
A collection of state attorneys general, including Eric Schneiderman of New York, have launched a clean power campaign in an attempt to punish dissent on climate change. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Last week Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker filed his opposition to CEI’s motions for attorney fees and sanctions, the latest development in the global warming subpoena saga.

By way of background, at a heavily publicized press conference on March 29, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman unveiled a new and, in his words, “unprecedented” coalition—“Attorneys General United for Clean Power.”  Its job would be to “use all the tools at our disposal” to push for progress on “the most consequential issue of our time”—the alleged crisis of climate change.  Al Gore had center stage at the press conference, but several other state AGs participated as well to pledge their cooperation.  Their target was the ongoing controversy over global warming—in their view, the skeptics on this issue were engaged not in debate, but in deception.

A few days later, CEI was served with a subpoena from one of the participating AGs, Claude Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The subpoena stated that, as part of Mr. Walker’s investigation of ExxonMobil under his territory’s racketeering laws, he was demanding a full decade’s worth of CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy—documents that would not only be incredibly burdensome for us retrieve, but that would also reveal the identities of our supporters.

We immediately made it clear, both publicly and in a letter to Mr. Walker, that we regarded this as a blatant violation of our First Amendment rights, as well as those of our donors; their right to confidentiality, after all, is based on a line of Supreme Court rulings.  Our view was shared by commenters across the political spectrum, and it was forcefully presented by our outside counsel, Andrew Grossman and David Rivkin of Baker Hostetler. 

CEI refused to hand over anything, and we proceeded to file motions for sanctions against Mr. Walker in the DC court that had issued the subpoena.  We argued that the AG had engaged in an outrageous abuse of the legal process. 

Well, Mr. Walker withdrew his DC subpoena, but he made it clear that he would reissue it if he changed his mind, and that he was not withdrawing the underlying Virgin Islands subpoena that had started all this.  We, however, are continuing to press forward with our motions for sanctions and attorney fees.  When it comes to constitutional outrages like this, a prosecutor’s Emily Litella “never mind” ploy just doesn’t suffice, especially when that official continues to threaten further abuses. 

Which brings us to Mr. Walker’s new filing, opposing our motions.  It sets forth a number of legal arguments to which we’ll shortly be responding in court.  But here’s the money line from that filing: “… CEI has wasted enough of VIDOJ’s and the court’s limited time and resources.”

Well, Mr. Walker has only himself to blame; when you abuse your authority to harass those whose views you dislike, there are going to be consequences. And when courts spend their time examining and sanctioning abuses, abuses which ultimately threaten us all, that is time well spent.

“Attorneys General United for Clean Power” is a misnomer.  It should really be called “Attorneys General United for More Power.”  And when that power consists of shutting down debate, we all have a duty to resist it.

Sam Kazman is General Counsel of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market advocacy organization headquartered in Washington DC. www.cei.org

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