Nominee calls policy issue ‘contentious’ (somewhere, Galileo is heard muttering)
In her confirmation hearings this week, Judge Amy Coney Barrett stated that she cannot express a view on climate change because it is a “very contentious matter of public policy.” As a science teacher and a graduate of Catholic school, I find this deeply troubling. What is contentious about climate change is not its reality but rather what to do about it. Barrett’s own religious leader, Pope Francis, knows this, as he called on people of faith to listen to scientists and take action in his 2015 ecological encyclical, Laudato Si.
I suspect Barrett was not consulting the pope but instead was revealing her lack of interest in scientific evidence that is inconvenient for conservatism. In that type of thinking, she is harking back to an earlier Catholic tradition, the Inquisition. The inquisitors famously took on Galileo for his heresy of writing that Earth moves around the sun.
Galileo is said to have muttered after his sentencing, “And yet it moves,” referring to Earth. Whatever Barrett may think, the science on climate change is clear. She cannot treat it like a legal problem with fascinating arguments on both sides. The science is settled, and as we ignore it, the earth not only moves, it burns.
Much depends on court’s ability to respond to this existential threat
Judge Amy Coney Barrett is not a geographer, and would not be able to comment on the “contentious” question of whether the earth is flat. With luck, no flat-earth lawsuits will reach the Supreme Court during her tenure (if, as expected, she is confirmed). Cases involving climate change and greenhouse gas pollution are certain to arise, though. When that happens, will she recuse herself? Or will she join other conservative judges in effectively denying the settled science of climate change? Her evasive response to the Senate Judiciary Committee is not encouraging.
A great deal depends on the court’s ability to recognize and respond to this existential threat by embracing scientifically grounded policy solutions in the face of self-dealing denialists. Let’s hope Barrett studies up.