Harvey Silverglate, a renowned civil rights attorney and former president of the American Civil Liberties Union in Massachusetts, called investigations of global warming skeptics by state attorneys general “pure harassment.”
“It is outrageous for any law enforcement official to be seeking to win this battle for minds by flexing law enforcement muscle and trying to shut up the other side,” Silverglate told The Boston Herald Thursday.
Silverglate, a veteran civil rights lawyer, was reacting to a subpoena issued Wednesday by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, demanding ExxonMobil turn over 40 years of records, including records regarding prominent conservative think tanks.
Healey claims the investigation is to determine if Exxon misled the public and shareholders about the risks of global warming. Healey is the latest state prosecutor to demand records from groups that disagree with her on global warming. New York AG Eric Schneiderman became the first law enforcer to investigate Exxon in November.
“It’s not the way scientific or factual or even political battles are settled in this country, which last I checked is still a free country,” Silverglate said, who founded the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
State AGs claim their investigations are based on reporting from liberal news outlets that Exxon tried to cover up the truth about global warming by funding conservative groups skeptical of man-made warming and opposed to anti-fossil fuel policies.
“The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but it does not protect companies from defrauding the American people or improperly disclosing information to their shareholders,” 19 Democratic California lawmakers recently wrote to state AG Kamala Harris, who has her own probe into Exxon.
But as more AGs start to investigate their political opponents, others are propping up to stop what they see as attacks on free speech.
“Exxon is a resident of the state of Texas, and we felt this was an attack on their first amendment rights,” Texas AG Ken Paxton said after he and Alabama AG Luther Strange filed a brief in support of Exxon’s legal battle to defeat a subpoena from U.S. Virgin Islands AG Claude Walker.
“They have every right to have their opinions on climate change. In my opinion you cross the line when you start prosecuting individuals for disagreeing with you,” he said.
Newspapers have also come out against Democratic AGs who are targeting Exxon.
“Climate change campaigners argue the seriousness of the issue means extreme measures are warranted, but the exact opposite is the case,” the Financial Times editorial board wrote in response to the Exxon investigation.
“It is precisely because the stakes are so high that all arguments must be heard. The actions by the attorney-generals can only degrade the quality of that debate,” they wrote.
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