While the debate over climate change has been, at times, contentious and even mean-spirited, it’s never been criminalized.
Recently, Claude Earl Walker, the attorney general for the U.S. Virgin Islands, issued a criminal subpoena to ExxonMobil in Texas. What crime are they investigating? Thoughts. Walker is investigating Exxon’s expressed doubts on the issue of climate change and those who they communicated with about this questionable subject.
Now, anyone who has expressed such thoughts has increasingly found themselves under vocal assault from politicians, federal funding agencies, universities, professional societies, and journalists. But this may be the most shocking assault yet. A government official is actually using his prosecutorial power to attack a company for nothing more than expressing an opinion that’s unpopular with the environmental left.
That is why my office and the Alabama Attorney General have joined ExxonMobil in an effort to have this abusive and unconstitutional subpoena thrown out of court.
This is the strongest demonstration yet of the almost-religious zeal with which climate change proponents attack those with whom they disagree, and how little the First Amendment freedoms mean to people with such an agenda. During a press conference announcing the investigation, Walker – along with a coalition of other environmentally activist AGs – said that his office has launched an investigation into a company whose “product is destroying the earth.”
Those words reveal the true motive behind this effort. Walker and the environmental activists he is beholden to are not neutral parties investigating possible wrongdoing. They are zealots on the hunt for a trophy.
Today, Walker is targeting ExxonMobil. But the coalition of activist Attorneys General that are operating alongside him suggests that the campaign for absolute orthodoxy on climate change could go national at any time, and who knows who could be next.
Unlike being criticized in the media or on college campuses, this isn’t merely an unfair annoyance. Companies being targeted will have to spend substantial financial resources to defend themselves, which serves as a massive de facto “fine” before any wrongdoing is even demonstrated. And that’s money that could otherwise go toward paying higher wages, hiring more employees, and investing more in the company.
In the subpoena, Walker demands four decades worth of ExxonMobil records, which is the very definition of a massive fishing expedition. They’re hoping to bring in as much information as possible so they can pore over it later in the hopes of finding somebody at ExxonMobil who did something wrong at some point in the company’s history — perhaps as far back as the Ford Administration.
Walker has floated a “theory” that the company’s speech somehow amounted to a criminal racketeering violation. In reality, this is an obvious attempt to criminalize views on one side of a debate, in flagrant disregard of the First Amendment.
Once we cross the line into prosecuting people for what they believe, we will have abandoned one of America’s founding principles. Our First Amendment freedoms must be protected.