Louisiana AG Jeff Landry criticizes efforts to “chill the robust exchange of ideas”

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects freedom of speech and assembly for all Americans. By allowing the people to challenge the status quo, these rights allow all of us to advocate for policies that we believe will produce a better quality of life.

Unfortunately, political leaders do not always respect these rights, particularly when they find their own beliefs or assumptions being challenged.

A prime example is “AGs United For Clean Power” – a new coalition including 15 state attorneys general along with the attorneys general from the Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Also participating in the coalition is former Vice President Al Gore.

The coalition has accused those who disagree with their positions on climate change as “lying” about the consequences of climate change, and is taking legal action against dissenters. This mission was explained by New York Attorney General and coalition member Eric Schneiderman at a press conference on May 29, 2016:

“[AGs United For Clean Power is] an unprecedented coalition of top law enforcement officials committed to aggressively protecting and building upon the recent progress the United States has made in combating climate change.”

Among the coalition targets is the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) – a DC-based non-profit public policy organization committed to promoting freedom and fairness – which was issued a subpoena on April 7th, 2016.

CEI president and CEO Kent Lassman posted a response to the subpoena on the non-profit’s website, where he highlighted his organization’s stance on the environment and related policy:

“There is no debate about whether the Earth’s climate is warming…There is, however, serious scientific debate about the magnitude and rate of climate change, the potential effects caused by warming, and the appropriate policy choices to address these issues.

While global warming could pose challenges, we do not believe it is a planetary emergency… Our policy work rests on the scientifically supported view that affordable, plentiful, and reliable fossil fuels make the world safer and the environment more livable.”

Whether or not one agrees with Lassman’s statement or CEI’s position on this issue, the very fact that a subpoena was issued – demanding all communication related to energy policy and climate change from 1997-2007, as well as information about donors who directly and indirectly supported those efforts – should be unsettling.

The subpoena is an attempt to intimidate Americans for exercising their First Amendment rights. While the attorneys general have a right to form a coalition “aggressively protecting” their efforts to combat climate change, they do not have a right to abuse their authority.

Fortunately, these coalition attempts to silence opposition are meeting strong opposition. CEI filed a complaint against the subpoena rather than meeting its compliance deadline. CEI’s lawyers David Rivkin and Andrew Grossman launched Free Speech and Science, a project dedicated to defending First Amendment rights against government abuse. Multiple AGs condemned the clean power coalition’s stifling of speech, including Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who issued a statement, noting:

“While I was not surprised to see these Attorneys General announce their intention to continue working in support of the unlawful and misguided Clean Power Plan – I was disturbed by their parallel announcement to ‘use all tools at [their] disposal to fight for Climate Progress,’ including the unfettered investigation of individual coal, oil, and natural gas companies’ past or current climate opinions, views, or research. It is one thing to use the legal system to pursue public policy outcomes; but it is quite another to use prosecutorial weapons to intimidate critics, silence free speech, or chill the robust exchange of ideas.”

If “AGs United For Clean Power” continues down this path, a dangerous precedent could be set. Government officials should not get into the habit of intimidating and harassing people and organizations that disagree on matters of policy. Since there is no reason to assume that elected officials are always motivated by what is best for the people of the United States, the freedom to express dissent is vital.

Threatening individuals, think tanks, organizations or any American for voicing their beliefs violates fundamental principles that our Founding Fathers recognized as essential. Regardless of one’s position on climate change, the AGs’ approach is wrong and should be stopped.