April 2, 2007

The Dissenting Opinion

Filed under: Climate Politics

Here is the concluding section of the dissenting opinion of Chief Justice Roberts (and joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) to the Supreme Court’s ruling that carbon dioxide regulation falls under the EPA’s purview under the Clean Air Act. (the complete decision including the majority and dissenting opinions can be found here )

According to Chief Justice Roberts:

IV.…The realities make it pure conjecture to suppose that EPA regulation of new automobile emissions will likely prevent the loss of Massachusetts coastal land.

V. Petitioners’ difficulty in demonstrating causation and redressability is not surprising given the evident mismatch between the source of their alleged injury—catastrophic global warming—and the narrow subject matter of the Clean Air Act provision at issue in this suit. The mismatch suggests that petitioners’ true goal for this litigation may be more symbolic than anything else. The constitutional role of the courts, however, is to decide concrete cases—not to serve as a convenient forum for policy debates [emphasis added -eds]. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Inc., 454 U. S. 464, 472 (1982) (“[Standing] tends to assure that the legal questions presented to the court will be resolved, not in the rarified atmosphere of a debating society, but in a concrete factual context conducive to a realistic appreciation of the consequences of judicial action”).

When dealing with legal doctrine phrased in terms of what is “fairly” traceable or “likely” to be redressed, it is perhaps not surprising that the matter is subject to some debate. But in considering how loosely or rigorously to define those adverbs, it is vital to keep in mind the purpose of the inquiry. The limitation of the judicial power to cases and controversies “is crucial in maintaining the tripartite allocation of power set forth in the Constitution.” DaimlerChrysler, 547 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 5) (internal 14 quotation marks omitted). In my view, the Court today—addressing Article III’s “core component of standing,” Defenders of Wildlife, supra, at 560—fails to take this limitation seriously.

To be fair, it is not the first time the Court has done so. Today’s decision recalls the previous high-water mark of diluted standing requirements, United States v. Students Challenging Regulatory Agency Procedures (SCRAP), 412 U. S. 669 (1973). SCRAP involved “[p]robably the most attenuated injury conferring Art. III standing” and “surely went to the very outer limit of the law”—until today. Whitmore, 495 U. S., at 158–159; see also Lujan v. National Wildlife Federation, 497 U. S. 871, 889 (1990) (SCRAP “has never since been emulated by this Court”). In SCRAP, the Court based an environmental group’s standing to challenge a railroad freight rate surcharge on the group’s allegation that increases in railroad rates would cause an increase in the use of non recyclable goods, resulting in the increased need for natural resources to produce such goods. According to the group, some of these resources might be taken from the Washington area, resulting in increased refuse that might find its way into area parks, harming the group’s members. 412 U. S., at 688.

Over time, SCRAP became emblematic not of the looseness of Article III standing requirements, but of how utterly manipulable they are if not taken seriously as a matter of judicial self-restraint. SCRAP made standing seem a lawyer’s game, rather than a fundamental limitation ensuring that courts function as courts and not intrude on the politically accountable branches. Today’s decision is SCRAP for a new generation [emphasis added, -eds].

Perhaps the Court recognizes as much. How else to explain its need to devise a new doctrine of state standing to support its result? The good news is that the Court’s “special solicitude” for Massachusetts limits the future applicability of the diluted standing requirements applied in this case. The bad news is that the Court’s self-professed relaxation of those Article III requirements has caused us to transgress “the proper—and properly limited—role of the courts in a democratic society” [emphasis added, -eds]. Allen, 468 U. S., at 750 (internal quotation marks omitted).

I respectfully dissent.

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