The CEI Subpoena Cannot Stand

It’s another one of those things that’s the “worst thing ever,” wrongthink on climate change.  Granted, many, myself included, do not share their position, but that is not the issue. No matter what you feel, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a conservative libertarian think tank dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, is absolutely entitled to take the views that it does, to argue its views, and to be as wrong as it wants to be.

And for the offense of thinking wrong about climate change, CEI has become the target of a subpoena to reveal the culprits of its “worst thing ever” ideas.

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

Putting aside the absurd burdens of having to comply with such an overreaching subpoena, the purpose of this unilateral action by the U.S. Virgin Islands AG is clear: this subpoena is meant to threaten and intimidate CEI for advocating an idea that liberal politicians find wrong.  The purpose is to silence thought, speech and disagreement.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.”

No matter how strongly, how passionately, how righteously you disagree with the CEI’s position, this is a frontal assault on the First Amendment. There is no gloss of feigned rationalization that can explain away why CEI’s right to think, to speak, to advocate, could conceivably be criminal, could conceivably be a legitimate target of a government subpoena.  And the government really doesn’t give a damn about its flagrantly unconstitutional purpose.

At a March 29 press conference in New York, Mr. Walker, an independent, and 16 Democrat attorneys general announced that they would use their offices to combat climate change. On hand to offer support was former Vice President Al Gore Jr.

“The Virgin Islands, which is especially vulnerable to environmental threats, has a particular interest in making sure that companies are honest about what they know about climate change,” said Mr. Walker in a statement. “We are committed to ensuring a fair and transparent market where consumers can make informed choices about what they buy and from whom.”

He said he would investigate Exxon Mobil following several articles alleging the company hid research conducted by its own scientists linking fossil-fuel emissions to global warming. Exxon officials have denied the claims and countered that the investigation was conducted by journalism entities that receive funding from foundations known for their climate change activism.

“If ExxonMobil has tried to cloud their judgment, we are determined to hold the company accountable,” said Mr. Walker in a March 29 statement.

The spin-blame is clear: disagree with Walker, not to mention the other 16 attorneys general, and they will come after you. Pollute people’s minds with ideas and information that challenges theirs and they will use the power of their offices to make your life miserable, to impose as great a burden on you as their powers allow. If you do not think as they do, you are dishonest.

That climate change is important, critical, is not the issue. That CEI, or ExxonMobil, is on the wrong side of the issue doesn’t matter.  If there is no right more foundational to our existence, it’s that we are entitled to disagree. We are entitled to be wrong.  And most importantly, we are entitled to speak out about our views, no matter how wrong they may be.

The problem of Wrongthink has become a core target of attack across the board, with many believing that there is a line beyond which free speech, free thought, free association, does not apply.  From all sides, the Constitution is under attack because it would protect ideas that some find anathema. Certainly, they say, ideas and speech they believe are wrong cannot be protected.  Certainly the First Amendment must give way when we are so certain an idea is wrong, when we are so certain is dangerous.

The Constitution is not a “suicide pact,” a phrase used by Justice Robert Jackson in his dissent in Terminiello v. Chicago.  Note that this was a dissent. Note too our nation survived.  It’s the sort of phrase that is used by the smarmy to whip up the ignorant because it fits neatly inside a fortune cookie and requires little effort to apply to any idea one finds offensive.

When it comes to climate change, many believe that their ideas are so right that any denial, any point of view other than theirs, will end in catastrophe. We will be committing suicide. We will destroy the ecosystem we need to survive, and life as we know it will cease.  This time is different. This time it really, really is suicide.

So make your case. Advocate your position. Persuade everyone you see that your position is right, that the demise of humanity is imminent and that we must act immediately to stem climate change.  Yes, go for it.

But never by silencing critics, no matter how wrong you are certain they are.  This subpoena cannot stand, no matter how strongly, how passionately, you disagree with CEI.  There is a line that cannot be crossed, no matter what, and that line has been crossed. Prevail because your ideas are better than theirs, but not because government has the means to bludgeon ideas with which it, and you, disagree.

33 thoughts on “The CEI Subpoena Cannot Stand

  1. losingtrader

    “At a March 29 press conference in New York, Mr. Walker, an independent, and 16 Democrat attorneys general announced that they would use their offices to combat climate change”

    Oh, nice, so they will be buying carbon offets to counter the footprint they leave invstigating?

  2. Hal

    “Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth” –
    Albert Einstein

    Saw this quote elsewhere this AM and thought it applied.

  3. delurking

    I, for one, welcome this dramatic new development. Someone needs to stand up for those who would be harmed by people advocating positions that are scientifically wrong. I hope this effort succeeds quickly, so that these 16 Democratic AGs can move on to subpoenaing and then punishing other organizations that are opposed to the clear scientific consensus: those that advocate against vaccination and those that advocate against golden rice and other GMO crops. Those organizations are causing suffering, disease, and death right now! Frankly, I don’t understand why they weren’t the first targets, given the more acute and pressing damage they are causing.

    1. Glenn Cullum

      You are aware that the subpoenas are more likely to be against those advocating golden rice and other GMO crops? Just shows how daft this is. You’d better be sure that Anthropogenic Climate Change is real, because the human and financial cost of the proposed mitigation is far more damaging than for anything less, ie warming that is not catastrophic. And then someone on the other side who believes in this crap might just come after you.

        1. tkdkerry

          I caught it, but in Glenn’s defense it could have been a little more, well, sarcastic. The moonbats are so far out there we really have to stretch to differentiate our mockery from their howling.

    1. SHG Post author

      You’re probably not aware of my issue with people who don’t use the “reply” button for a reply, right?

      1. Hal

        Aach! I am aware and thought I’d clicked “reply”. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. I’d commit seppuku to alleviate my shame, but all I have handy is a butter knife…

  4. Jay

    If you’re not going to argue that fraud is protected by the First Amendment, maybe you could save yourself some time and not write another melodramatic hit piece with no substance. This is crap.

    1. delurking

      Yes! A paisan! Someone who will help me convince these 16 Democratic AGs to go after the anti-vaccinationists and the anti-GMO organizations next! Talk about fraud! After all, the 16 Democratic AGs are “committed to ensuring a fair and transparent market where consumers can make informed choices about what they buy and from whom.” The scientific case fore the safety of vaccines and GMOs is stronger than the scientific case for the costs of global warming, so clearly these organizations are committing fraud through their mis-information. Fraud!

      What do you say, Jay?

  5. Brett Glass

    The issue here is not the fact that CEI is “speaking.” It is that it does not qualify for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status because it is not an “educational” or “charitable” organization but rather a lobbying shop that should be paying taxes. There are many such “stink tanks” in DC, all paid by corporations to claim that what is good for their clients is good for the country. CEI is following in the footsteps of the tobacco industry’s faux “public interest” groups. Not only CEI but also some of the groups which oppose it for the benefit of rival corporations should be exposed, stripped of their tax exempt status, and required to pay back taxes and penalties.

    1. SHG Post author

      I had to fish your comment out of the askimet spam folder. You might want to consider why that might be. But no, that is not “the issue here.” That may be a fair enough question to ask, though I know some folks at CEI who are most assuredly intellectually honest in their views, but if that was the question, then it would be the IRS, not a state AG, doing the investigation.

    2. Fyodor

      Most important advocacy is going to have *some* people or entities that benefit from it that will want to support it. Maybe there is some line you can draw that prevents “shadow lobbying” while not chilling real advocacy but I am dubious.

  6. Nigel Declan

    Shades of Raphael Golb and his prosecution resulting from a disagreement over the correct way to interpret the Dead Sea Scrolls. What is it with New York State and its desire to play the role of thought police?

    1. SHG Post author

      Well, in fairness this was the US Virgin Islands AG, not Schneiderman. Of course, Schneiderman is no better, but some virgin beat him to it.

      1. Jim Tyre

        I am informed and believe, and based on such information and belief allege, that kids are conceived in the Virgin Islands. Regularly. There should really be a truth in advertising class action

          1. Jim Tyre

            I foresee a seminar on admissible evidence and burdens of proof. You get the immaculate conception side.

          2. wilbur

            My 12 years of Catholic school education impel me to point out that the Immaculate Conception is not about the alleged virginal conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. It is the doctrine that Mary was born free of the stain of original sin.

            But I have learned to use the reply button.

            1. SHG Post author

              While your Catholic education may well have given you mad Mary’s vagina skillz, it did nothing for your sense of humor.

  7. Ex-Wlikie

    To the one poster who accused Scott of fraud, I love how in America anytime someone writes anything that someone else doesn’t agree with they accuse the former of fraud.

    Scott’s piece is not a hit piece, its a legitimate criticism. There sort of isn’t a theory of the case, its just fishin. At their various news conferences, the AGs spent a lot of time talking about global warming, and how bad it was, and how much they disliked fossil fuel companies. They threw the word “fraud” around a lot. But the more they talked about it, the more it became clear that what they meant by “fraud” was “advocating for policies that the attorneys general disagreed with.” New York AG Eric Schneiderman gave the game away when he explained that they would be pursuing completely different theories in different jurisdictions — some under pension laws, some consumer protection, some securities fraud. It is traditional, when a crime has actually been committed, to first establish that a crime has occurred, and then identify a perpetrator. When prosecutors start running that process backwards, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re looking at prosecutorial power run amok.

    On a side note, I think the word fraud or the allegation of fraud is overused in the US. Just for giggles sake I did a check online and the number of fraud prosecutions brought in the US in 2010 (according to the US Attorney’s manual) was over 9,000 (federal level). Do you know how many it was in the UK? The Serious Fraud Office brought less than 40 cases.

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