A recent climate change initiative by a coalition of nearly 20 attorneys general poses deep concerns about the rule of law.
There are few things more corrosive to the rule of law than a perception of misbehavior on the part of law enforcement officers. Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore are recent examples.
Perceived misconduct by police officers has garnered national attention in recent days and months. The scrutiny of the behavior of law enforcement officers has rarely been more intense than it is today. This is true at both the local level as well as at the most senior levels of law enforcement — the U.S. attorney general and the various state and territorial attorneys general.
This is why the actions of a group of attorneys general raises deep concerns about the rule of law.
At a time when many issues carve a deep divide in the political landscape of the world and country, a coalition of attorneys general has recently declared that the science of global warming is settled and that there can be no excuse for firms that resist legislative and judicial actions to reverse global warming trends. They announced that they would coordinate their prosecutorial powers to initiate criminal litigation against firms that have been active in lobbying against initiatives on global warming.
Whether or not one agrees with their claims regarding the science, much of which is sound, this action conjures up the same distrust many feel toward officers that they feel are prosecuting without due process.
To the coalition's credit, it has chosen the legal strategy of charging the target firms with criminal fraud. Criminal fraud puts a heavy burden of proof on the accuser. And in the early skirmishes in the battle that has resulted, the coalition's efforts have been rebuffed in the courts, resulting in a hasty legal retreat.
The issues surrounding climate change and global warming should be a concern to everyone. Criminal activity on either side of the issue should be prosecuted appropriately. However, it is a troubling precedent when a group of the most senior law enforcement officers in the land (as represented by state attorneys general), attempts to apply judicial might to questions best left to legislators.
The rule of law and public confidence is fundamentally compromised when law enforcement officers abuse the power of their office in deference to their own personal biases or agendas rather than fairly and consistently enforcing the laws of the land.
The civil order of any free nation depends heavily upon law enforcement officers at every level acting in such a way that instills public confidence in the rule of law.
The people deserve a system of law enforcement that can be trusted to ensure justice and equity to all, not to enforce political mores of a particular party agenda. We can do better.