Energy

FLASHBACK: Judge Who Nixed Exxon Climate Case Has Skeletons In Her Closet

The federal judge, who dismissed Exxon Mobil’s First Amendment case against a New York attorney general, was criticized in the past for allegedly using government power to suppress constitutional rights.

Judge Valerie Caproni, who nixed an Exxon lawsuit accusing attorneys general of violating the company’s free speech rights, was criticized during former President George W. Bush’s era for downplaying the government’s scope of surveillance. She even clashed with Congress during her tenure as FBI’s counsel over how much authority the government should have to snoop on American citizens.

New York AG Eric Schneiderman’s probe targeting Exxon’s climate record does not constitute a violation of the company’s freedom of speech, Caproni noted in her March 30 decision. Schneiderman, a Democrat who has gone after everything and everyone associated with Republican politics, cheered Caproni’s decision in a press statement addressing the ruling.

But Caproni’s decision to soft-peddle government surveillance puts a black mark on her Exxon decision. Critics blasted her in 2013 after The Guardian and others revealed the U.S. Patriot Act was being used to collect and store millions of Americans’ telephone records. Activists were also highly critical of former President Barack Obama’s decision to nominate her for a seat on the southern district court of New York.

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“It is a shame that the White House has chosen to nominate former FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni to a lifelong position as a federal judge given her narrow views of Americans’ privacy rights as demonstrated by her actions in the George W. Bush administration,” Justice Department official Lisa Graves, who served in the Clinton and Bush administrations, said in statement shortly after Obama nominated her in 2013.

Democratic lawmakers also blasted Caproni for overseeing many of the provisions within the U.S. Patriot Act. Former Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, for instance, called for then-FBI Director Robert Mueller to fire her in 2010 for playing a part in allowing the government to hoover up phone records.

“The FBI broke the law on telephone records privacy and the general counsel’s office, headed by Valerie Caproni, sanctioned it and must face consequences,” former House Judiciary Committee chairman Conyers said in an interview with The Guardian in 2010.

His criticism came shortly after a Department of Justice report in 2010 from an internal watchdog, which discovered the FBI misused a type of non-judicial subpoena, “exigent letter,” to obtain thousands of phone numbers. Another 2008 DOJ report found the FISA court in 2006 refused to sign off on an FBI request for records under the Patriot Act “because of first amendment concerns.”

Caproni’s decision to dismiss Exxon’s free speech claim was a shot across the bow to Republican AGs from Oklahoma, Utah and Texas who filed a June 2017 amicus brief castigating Schneiderman and Massachusetts AG Maura Healey’s probe.

The AG’s believe the pursuit of Exxon did violate the First Amendment of the U.S Constitution, which constitutes an “unconstitutional abuse of investigative power.” Schneiderman and Healey wanted to “promote one side of [the] international public policy debate” on climate change issues, they also argued at the time.

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