Why Trump’s Supreme Court Nominee, Neil Gorsuch, Matters so much to Those Whose Lives and Health are Threatened by a Polluted Environment

If you care about the environment’s impact on our life and health, should you care about whether Judge Neil Gorsuch, who President Trump has just nominated, is approved for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court?

Yes. You absolutely should. Here’s why:

(1) Trump has a plan to dismantle environmental regulation [cite to my blog of earlier this week]. That plan includes Trump’s determination to encase in American law his scientifically fraudulent view that climate change/global warming is a “hoax”. To leave no room for doubt on this, Trump appointed to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) a man named Scott Pruitt, who, as the Attorney General of Oklahoma, has sued the EPA some 14 times, mostly arguing that EPA has no right to regulate the petroleum industry. That’s the industry most responsible for global warming. In plain terms, Pruitt doesn’t want the EPA to have the power to stop polluters from polluting. And, courtesy of our new President, he’s going to be in charge of the EPA in a few days.


(2) Trump’s plan is going to be judged by the Supreme Court. The President’s reckless plan to de-regulate pollution in America is going to be met by fierce legal challenges. Environmental groups and citizens whose lives and health will be endangered by Trump’s plan will sue to stop the plan. (I hope to be the lawyer for at least one of these groups.) This legal fight is going to wind up in the Supreme Court. It’s that important. There, among the really crucial questions will be: Does the Supreme Court uphold, or strike down, America’s “Clean Power Plan”, which limits the carbon dioxide pollution produced by power plants, and which the EPA believes will spare more than 100,000 children from asthma attacks, and thousands more from premature death due to air pollution from those plants? The “global warming is a hoax” crowd-including the President-will be there, insisting that the Clean Power Plan be struck down. Will Gorsuch be sympathetic?

(3) The Gorsuch vote will be the difference. When all the seats are full, the Supreme Court has nine justices-nine “votes”. Many significant environmental issues coming before the Supreme Court in recent years have been decided on 5-4 votes. With American lives literally hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court by the closest of margins has been either upholding or striking down the EPA’s power to regulate pollution in this country. One of the “votes” that could be counted on to favor big industrial polluters in those decisions was that of Antonin Scalia-who not only hated environmental regulation but halted it with a surprising intensity, aggressively taking the lead in writing pro-polluter opinions for the court. But Justice Scalia died last year, unexpectedly. Trump has nominated Judge Gorsuch to replace Scalia. Will he vote like Scalia?

(4) Only the na├»ve believe Gorsuch will not vote like Scalia. Gorsuch was nominated to fill Scalia’s seat only a couple of days ago. So, we are still in the rush of receiving new information about him. We know, for example, that Gorsuch currently sits on a federal appellate court, where he is a reliably conservative vote. We are told by Trump and his spokespeople that Gorsuch is a very smart, courteous, and thoughtful man, and (at least to the point of this writing) there doesn’t seem to be much dispute about these attributes. So, everything’s good, right? No. Not remotely. Because we also know this about Gorsuch: President Trump-poised with his environmental wrecking ball-appointed Gorsuch, after talking to him personally, and having him “vetted” by Trump’s aides who almost certainly made it their business to find out if Gorsuch would vote the way that Trump wants him to on environmental (and no doubt lots of other) issues. Does anyone really believe that Trump and his aides didn’t ask Gorsuch how he would vote on environmental issues, or that Gorsuch didn’t give the President the answers he wanted to hear? Would the same President who picked fellow “hoaxer” Scott Pruitt to head the EPA really leave to chance the possibility that the Supreme Court’s deciding vote might vote against everything that Pruitt and Trump are trying to accomplish.


(5) The Koch brothers like Gorsuch. Gorsuch was also strongly recommended to Trump by the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, two right-wing “think tanks” that are significantly financed by the oil billionaire Koch brothers-Charles and David– who for more than a decade have used their vast wealth to stock all levels of government with politicians on a mission to likewise wreck environmental regulation. Does anyone really believe that the Koch brothers and their “think tanks” didn’t satisfy themselves that Gorsuch would be a reliable pro-polluter vote before strongly recommending him to Trump?


So, the stakes are as high as they could be, and the battle lines are drawn on the Gorsuch nomination. And, at the moment, it looks like a terrible mismatch. It’s the billionaire Koch brothers-who got rich from polluting the environment-and their sympathetic billionaire President against the many mostly poor and minority children and their parents who will get sick or die from the extra pollution that the Kochs and Trump are so intent on inflicting upon them.

If he is to ascend to the Supreme Court to help the Koch brothers and Trump win this fight, Gorsuch will have to be approved for that job by the U.S. Senate. There will be a public hearing, at which the Senators will ask Gorsuch questions. It is absolutely vital that these Senators do their jobs-at least in the name of those children and their families whose lives will depend on whether Gorsuch gets to the Supreme Court, and, if he does, whether he will vote as the Koch brothers and Trump expect and plan that he will.

The Senators must examine Gorsuch relentlessly on the assurances he has given to the President and the Koch brothers and their representatives. They must not allow him to duck questions about this topic, and about his views of the power of the EPA to regulate pollution in this country. And if he gives the wrong answers, or refuses to even give answers-which is the same thing-they must vote Gorsuch down.

And maybe most important: they must ask Gorsuch if he has any idea of what it feels like to be one of this society’s many defenseless people, whose lives and health are cruelly measured against the extra corporate profits that relaxed environmental regulation will create. Gorsuch may indeed be a “smart and courteous and thoughtful” lawyer; but is he a flesh and blood human being?

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