September 18, 2007

Newsflash: Clinton Judge Finds Limit to Judicial Power

Hatched by Dafydd

It's a bit sad that I consider it newsworthy that a federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, Martin Jenkins, has actually thrown out an activist, leftist lawsuit, filed by the state of California against automakers, alleging they have damaged the state by making cars that contribute to global warming. (Actually, the lawsuit was filed by former governor, former mayor, now Attorney General and perpetual nutjob Jerry Brown "on behalf of" the state of California; I didn't get to vote on it.) The judge held that setting such policy was rightly the task of the legislative branch of the federal government, not the judiciary:

A U.S. federal judge tossed out a lawsuit by California's attorney general on Monday seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from six automakers for damaging the state with climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Martin Jenkins, a federal judge in the Northern District of California, said the issue of global warming should be decided in the political rather than legal arena.

"The Court finds that injecting itself into the global warming thicket at this juncture would require an initial policy determination of the type reserved for the political branches of government," Jenkins wrote in approving the automakers' motion to dismiss the case.

(It's unclear from the article, but I think Judge Jenkins held that the federal courts do not have jurisdiction.)

I am stunned. I thought this would be a slam-dunk before a liberal judge in blue-state California. Evidently the Office of the Attorney General was likewise stunned, because its spokesman just made what is simultaneously the most fatuous and the most legally incompetent argument I've ever seen from that body:

The suit was the first seeking to hold manufacturers liable for global warming damages caused by greenhouse emissions. It said cars made by the six automakers account for more than 30 percent of human-generated carbon dioxide emissions in California, the most populous U.S. state.

"We understand why a district federal judge may not want to jump into a global warming thicket with both feet," Ken Alex, California's supervising deputy attorney general, said in an interview. "Having said that, the basic tenet of law is that where you describe a harm then there needs to be a remedy for it."

"Right now because the political branches -- the federal government, Congress and the executive branch -- have not acted, the state of California is left without a remedy."

Now I must again caution that I am not a real lawyer; I will cop to being a "Philadelphia lawyer" or a "sea lawyer," to playing one on this blog sometimes, and to thinking of myself as more informed on the law than 95% of laymen (and so much more modest, too!) So maybe I've misunderstood this point all these years.

But I remember both my lawyer father and a friend of mine who attended law school but chose not to become an attorney separately telling me the exact opposite. They said that the idea that "every harm has a legal remedy" is discussed as a false belief that many people have about the law. In other words, both these two lawyers told me that Counselor Alex is 180 degrees off course: Not every harm has a legal remedy; sometimes, bad things happen, and there is nobody you can collect from.

For example, suppose you're hiking in Yosemite, admiring the beautiful scenery. Too much so; you fail to note that the trail turns north, and you continue walking west... right into a creek, where you stumble, fall, and crack your kneecap on a rock.

Ow. Nobody can tell me that's not a "harm." You're in agony; you can't walk; you're stuck four miles from the nearest help. And you know what? There is not a single person in the world you can successfully sue. You have no legal remedy whatsoever. A bad thing happened to you -- because you were a dumbass.

Even overt actions that harm people in ways obviously known to the actor don't necessarily mean the victim has a valid lawsuit. For example, suppose the government condemns somebody's house under eminent domain (in order to build a public emergency trauma center), and suppose further they pay the owner market price plus 5%. But suppose the owner was born in that house, as were his family for the previous three generations, as well as his daughter; and suppose he would never have sold it for any amount of money at all. Hasn't he suffered a grievous harm?

Well, yes he has; but no, he has no real case against the government, because they paid him "just compensation." He has no legal remedy for the harm he suffered.

In the global-warming case, I'm certain that Jerry Brown will appeal to the 9th Circus Court, which could overturn the judge's ruling on the motion to dismiss. No matter, the loser will appeal to the Supreme Court; once there, I believe the majority will use Judge Jenkins' decision as the basis for confirming that there really, truly are limitations on legislating from the bench.

Thus it may turn out that Jerry Brown's most enduring legacy will be striking a mighty blow -- albeit inadvertently -- for judicial restraint. Exciting, isn't it?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, September 18, 2007, at the time of 1:52 PM

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The following hissed in response by: rambler

I, too, am not a lawyer. But my solution would be for the auto manufacturers to make a settlement offer: in exchange for California dropping the suit, the manufacturers will voluntarily withdraw from California, and sell no more vehicles there - no cars, no trucks, no buses. That should address California's concerns about global warming, because within ten years or so, most of the cars will have fallen apart. Since there will be no replacements, the roads should be empty, the skies should be clear, and global warming will be stopped. Or not.

As an alternative, the California legislature could simply ban cars, buses and trucks. Overnight, all vehicles would be removed from the highways and byways of California. Again, the effect on the environment would be dramatic - Los Angeles would be smog free for the first time in many decades. Of course, people all over the country would starve, since there would be no way to move the produce to market. But that would be a small price to pay to reduce global warming. (And all those people starving would have a ripple effect on global warming as well, when they died off.)
Jerry Brown is obviously just trying to use the courts to extort money from the auto manufacturers.

The above hissed in response by: rambler [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 18, 2007 2:58 PM

The following hissed in response by: LarryD

Umm, rambler. A lot of people in California would starve, many more would leave the state, but California is not the breadbasket of the United States. Some items would disappear, other would rise in price (because the supply would shrink), but that's all the effect California dropping out of the agricultural market would have.

The above hissed in response by: LarryD [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 19, 2007 6:36 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

At what point can we sue Jerry Brown and the California Legislature for damages to the automotive industry - potentially putting thousands of employees out of work over nonsense?

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 19, 2007 9:01 AM

The following hissed in response by: Big D

Ah, one more thing. This is just the sort of weak thinking that allows liberals to believe 911 is some grand conspiracy as opposed to an unprecedented terrorist action. All bad things have a cause, and the worse the thing, the larger the cause, and at some point the cause can only be a worldwide government conspiracy directed personally at you.

The above hissed in response by: Big D [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 19, 2007 9:05 AM

The following hissed in response by: David M

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 09/19/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the check back often.

The above hissed in response by: David M [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 19, 2007 10:12 AM

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