Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

Green Supreme: How Eco-Minded Are Obama’s Supreme Court Picks?

When it was announced early this month that Justice John Paul Stevens would retire from the Supreme Court, Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes published a green-themed take on the news with the sub-header: “The court loses an environmental rock star.” Stevens became a Supreme Court Justice in 1975 – just 13 years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring jump-started the environmental movement – and he’s been on the green case ever since. His shoes will be tough to fill, especially since a bunch of important climate change and conservation cases are expected to come before the Supreme Court in the next couple of years.

So Hiskes has examined the eco records of Obama’s top three replacement candidates at this point – Elena Kagan, Merrick Garland, and Diane Wood – and offered readers a breakdown of their respective eco records. All three were in the running last year (this year’s frontrunner, Kagan, even got an interview), and all three have left some kind of environmental trail to trace. Here, truncated, is what Hiskes dug up:

Elena Kagan:  Two thumbs up. Current solicitor general, Kagan co-founded Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program during a former life (tenure as Hahvahd Law dean, from 2003 to 2009). She convinced eco-policy big wig professor Jody Freeman to leave UCLA for Harvard, and even gave H Law students a way to work on actual, current cases, by putting an Environmental Law and Policy Clinic in place at the university.

Merrick Garland:  The most conservative of the three top picks, but he did, as Hiskes puts it, represent the DC Appeals Court well by “repeatedly smacking down environmental shenanigans from the Bush administration EPA.” Garland sided with Earthjustice and the Sierra Club over the EPA on pollution standards in 2004.

Diane Wood:  She’s known for having stood up (representing the Court of Appeals in Chicago) to defend clean water – an amenity we all enjoy. She ruled that seasonal and non-navigable waterways should be protected under the vaguely-worded Clean Water Act. Unfortunately, her good work came to naught – the Supreme Court flipped the decision back over. Redo?

So: three candidates, varying shades of green, but no eco-scrooges on the list. Obama said of the weighty decision on his plate: “I’ll seek someone in the coming weeks with similar qualities: an independent mind, a record of excellence and integrity, a fierce dedication to the rule of law and a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people. It will also be someone who, like Justice Stevens, knows that in democracy powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens.” Maybe he said it with environmental issues in mind.


Up Next
Since time immemorial people have considered two ways to be immortal: through one’s progeny or by displaying spectacular achievement in the sciences, arts or politics. Now there’s another way: Tweeting. […]