Oral argument: Apr. 19, 2011
Appealed from: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Sep. 21, 2009)
POLLUTION, LEGISLATION, ENERGY, FEDERAL COMMON LAW
Several states brought suit against various power companies, arguing that the companies’ carbon emissions create a public nuisance – i.e. harm the public welfare – by contributing to global warming and damaging the environment. The district court dismissed the claim before trial, holding that disputes concerning global warming are “political questions” that should be resolved by the legislature, not the courts. However, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that courts are allowed to hear such cases, and that such disputes are not restricted to resolution in the political arena. Furthermore, the Second Circuit held that allowing such cases does not alleviate a plaintiff’s heavy burden of proving its side of the dispute in court. The decision will depend on whether the Supreme Court feels that the judiciary can properly handle such claims, or whether the complexity, controversy, and volume of such cases counsel in favor of dismissing this initial suit.