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Supreme Court asks Justice Department to weigh in on climate change suits in California, other states

Steam is emitted from smoke stacks at a coal-fired power plant Nov. 17, 2021, in Craig, Colo.
(Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
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The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Justice Department to weigh in on whether the climate change lawsuits filed by California and two dozen other cities and states should be blocked.

At issue is whether greenhouse gas emissions are a matter controlled only by federal law, or if states can play a role.

The oil and gas industries had urged the high court to take up the issue now and to rule that federal law preempts or overrides state claims seeking damages for the impact of a hotter climate.

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Monday’s brief order asks Solicitor Gen. Elizabeth Prelogar to file a brief “expressing the views of the United States” in the two pending appeals, Sunoco vs. Honolulu and Shell vs. Honolulu.

The announcement signals it will be at least several months before the court decides on whether to take up the dispute between the oil and gas producers and the blue states suing them.

In the meantime, state and municipal lawyers from Massachusetts to Hawaii can proceed with their claims. They are seeking jury trials to show that the energy companies had known for decades about the dangers of burning fossil fuels and instead sought to downplay the risks of a warming planet.

The Supreme Court is being asked to block climate change lawsuits filed against oil companies by California and other blue states.

June 4, 2024

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the state was suing the five largest oil and gas companies — Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and BP — and the American Petroleum Institute for what they described as a “decades-long campaign of deception” that created climate-related harms in California. The suit was filed in Superior Court in San Francisco.

Monday’s order noted that Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took no part in the court’s consideration of these appeals, presumably because he owns stocks in one or more of the 15 companies that filed the appeals.

Unlike the other justices, Alito has continued to hold a large portfolio of individual stocks that may require him to step aside from deciding a case involving one of those companies. However, if the court were to take up the climate change case in the next year, he could sell the stocks that were affected and then participate in the decision.

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Photos showed an upside-down flag at the home of Justice Alito. He says he is a victim of unfair attacks.

May 20, 2024

Separately Alito has been under pressure to step aside from ruling in the pending case involving former President Trump and Trump’s claim that he should be immune from the criminal indictment alleging he conspired to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election.

Alito said he would not step aside. He acknowledged that his wife had flown flags outside two of their homes in a manner widely perceived as being supportive of Jan. 6 insurrectionists. But he said he had nothing to do with her decision and it did not prevent him from deciding impartially in the pending case.

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