How Could Ketanji Brown Jackson’s SCOTUS Nomination Impact the Environment?

| Reproaction

By: Nataley Neuman

Ketanji Brown Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States is nothing short of a historic feat. She’s the first Black woman to have been nominated to the Supreme Court, and once confirmed, she would become the sixth women ever to sit on the court on top of being one of four people of color to serve under this title. Judge Jackson is immensely qualified for this role, and her past rulings show her deep understanding of and respect for the law. [1] Groups representing issues from abortion access to environmental protection and preservation rushed to show their support for a swift confirmation process after President Joe Biden made the announcement on February 25. As the confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson ensue – which are taking place now, starting on March 21, 2022 – we can speculate how her time on the court will affect future generations.

The decisions of the Supreme Court will shape the future of our environment dramatically, and as such, the confirmation of Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court will directly impact climate policy and preservation for years to come. For decades, scientists and activists alike have continuously warned about the impending era of disastrous climate change, an era that we’re currently wading into. [2] Marginalized communities are the most impacted by climate disaster, with poor people, people of color, Indigenous people, younger people, and people with disabilities bearing the brunt of severe climate change. From severe heat, wildfires, poor air quality, rising sea levels, drought, and more, the most vulnerable populations in the world are already facing the burden of our deteriorating climate, and this must be carefully considered as we move to confirm a new justice to the highest court in the land.

In Judge Jackson’s past rulings on environmental cases, we can see a pattern emerge of deferring to federal law. For instance, in the Sierra Club v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers case in 2014 regarding the construction of the Flanigan South Pipeline between Oklahoma and Illinois, Judge Jackson ruled that federal environmental law did not require agencies to conduct an environmental impact assessment before constructing the 589-mile domestic oil pipeline through several states. It was concluded that only 27 miles of the pipeline would run through federal land, though the Sierra Club sought to have an environmental assessment for the entirety of the pipeline, and Judge Jackson ruled that federal agencies were only required to assess the parts of the pipeline that ran through federal land. [3]

In the case of the Government of Guam v. United States, Ketanji Brown Jackson ruled in favor of Guam, allowing the government to move forward with a case against the United States government. This case concerned the contamination of the Ordot Landfill by the United States, and Judge Jackson ruled that “an earlier consent decree did not prevent the government of Guam from seeking to have the United States pay for decades of environmental contamination and is allowed under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).” [3] Though the decision was later reversed by the DC Circuit Court, the United States Supreme Court later sided with Judge Jackson and allowed the case to move forward.

Some environmental groups stated that although Judge Jackson hasn’t ruled in favor of the environment in some of her cases, she clearly understands and respects the rule of law. [3] Nonetheless, climate activists are praising her nomination to the highest court, calling her nomination “long overdue.” [4] The Sierra Club, one of the most influential grassroots organizations working on climate justice, stated that “Judge Jackson’s record speaks for itself … and it is clear as a justice, she will ensure equal justice for every single one of us, uphold the values of our Constitution and keep faith with the letter and spirit of the nation’s bedrock public health, environmental, civil rights, and labor laws.” [4] American Rivers also applauded the nomination of Judge Jackson, stating that “[she] is exceptionally well qualified, with legal expertise and experience that will strengthen the highest court… [and Judge Jackson’s] nomination comes at a critical moment.” [5] Though Judge Jackson has ruled in favor of the environmental groups as much as she’s ruled against them, [6] environmental advocates remain positive about her nomination.

The nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson and her subsequent confirmation is of the utmost importance in preserving and supporting our future, the next generation’s future, and the planet.

Ketanji Brown Jackson is fair, just and is a clear champion of the law. She certainly understands her role in the judicial system, and in a letter signed by 23 lawyers who clerked for the Supreme Court at the same time as her emphasized their “great respect for her legal abilities, her work ethic, and her ability to work with colleagues of both like and differing views.” [7] Her confirmation process should continue onward without delay or interruption. Confirming Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court is vital in securing a fair and just court, and as justice, her decisions on cases involving the preservation of our climate could impact generations.




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