How Green is Sonia Sotomayor? A Case by Case Look at the Supreme Court Justice Nominee


Image via Esquire

As soon as Obama announced his nominee for Supreme Court Justice, we did a preliminary look at how green she seemed to be. Now that some of the dust has settled after the initial news frenzy, we've gotten a bit of a better idea how Sonia Sotomayer stands on green issues. This is important stuff--since an appointment to the Supreme Court is lifelong, she's got to be green for life. From her stance on greenhouse gas regulations to her understanding of the EPA, here's what you need to know about the green leanings of the judge who's shaping up to be the newest Supreme Court Justice.As Green Wire points out, environmentalists like what they see in Sotomayer. There are a number of reasons for this, even though she doesn't have an extensive record on environmental policy issues. This is what we do know:

Conservation Minded
Green folks have reason to believe Sotomayer will be an ally on conservation and environmental issues, based mostly on one ruling:

Environmentalists primarily are pointing to a single 2007 decision by Sotomayor -- on U.S. EPA's use of cost-benefit analysis in the regulation of pollutants -- as a signal that the potential future justice may side with them on a number of issues.

In the decision, she moved to uphold the standards cited in the Clean Air Act. Grist explains her ruling as follows:
Sotomayor argued in her decision that the EPA should not use cost-benefit analysis to determine what technologies to use for cooling-water intake structures at power plants. The Clean Water Act says that these intake structures must use the "best technology available" to prevent harm to aquatic life (i.e., fish getting stuck on machinery, or smaller fish getting sucked right up into the system), but it doesn't specify what would qualify as such. Sotomayor argued that the determination should be based on the environmental benefit, honoring the original intent of the Clean Water Act

Environmentalists everywhere applauded the move, and where disappointed when her decision was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Supports Environmental Justice
According to Grist:

her record indicates both that she acknowledges the rights of citizens to challenge regulatory authorities if they fail to uphold their legal mandate, and that she affirms the authority of environmental regulatory agencies. This perspective differs markedly from the one shared by the Supreme Court's four conservative justices — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito — who have repeatedly challenged both these premises.

On Greenhouse Gas Regulation
While she hasn't yet issued a ruling relating directly to climate change, she's involved in a current one. According to Green Wire:
As part of a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sotomayor heard a 2006 case, Connecticut v. American Electric Power Company Inc., in which eight state attorneys general sued a number of major electric utilities, alleging that greenhouse gas emissions amounted to a public nuisance.

After a federal district court ruled in favor of the utilities, the states appealed the case to the 2nd Circuit.

Sotomayor -- who was the lone Democratic nominee on the three-judge panel -- did much of the questioning of both sides and indicated in her comments that she believes there may be a need for regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.


Though there's also reason to believe climate change isn't a chief concern, it appears she's sympathetic to the severity of the issue:
"I have absolutely no idea about the science of global warming," she said at one point during the hearing. "But if the science is right, we have relegated ourselves to killing the world in the foreseeable future. Not in centuries to come but in the very near future."

So despite the fact that there's not much ironclad proof that she'll lean overtly in favor of green issues, judging from her record, it does seem that there's a far better chance that she will. Her record's enough to satisfy the enviro group Earth Justice, that's for sure:

"This is the best Supreme Court nomination in many years," EarthJustice President Tripp Van Noppen gushed to Grist. "She's got more judicial experience than any nominee in 70 years, more federal judicial experience than any nominee in 100 years ... She's very strong in terms of experience."

More on the Supreme Court
Supreme Court Delivers Landmark Ruling On Greenhouse Gases
Supreme Court Lets Big Business off the Hook in the Mystery of the $42 Million Pesticide Dump
TreeHugger Radio: The Supreme Court Rules on CO2, MIT Takes on Biodiesel, and a Little Canary Goes Green

Tags: Barack Obama | Congress | EPA

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