How CEI Is Defending Your Right to Speak Freely

free speech edited

Regardless of your position on any policy issue, the right to voice your opinion is a unique and fundamental element of American democracy. But today, Americans’ right to free speech is under attack by government officials.

It is not a crime to disagree with the administration or any member of your local, state or federal government. However, a group of state attorneys general, calling themselves “AGs United for Clean Power,” has made it its mission to silence debate on a critical issue of the day by violating the free speech rights of CEI and more than 100 other organizations and private individuals.

What happened? In March 2016, Al Gore and a coalition of state attorneys general held a press conference announcing plans to "use all the tools at [their] disposal” to intimidate and prosecute organizations for simply voicing their opinions and publishing research on climate change.  A week later, Attorney General Claude Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands subpoenaed CEI for a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information from 1997-2006. The subpoena threatened CEI’s rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association.

How did CEI respond? CEI decided to fight this attack. We objected to the attorney general’s offensive and unlawful action as being aimed at silencing CEI and intimidating its supporters. Using DC’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects the public’s right to engage in advocacy on issues of public interest from attacks by abusive legal actions, we asked the District of Columbia Superior Court to permanently dismiss Attorney General Walker's subpoena action, so that it could not be refiled, and to require him to reimburse CEI’s expenses.

Our next move was to rally support and inform the public. On May 18, CEI ran a full page advertisement in The New York Times. The ad was an open letter signed by 43 organizations and individuals who agree that this abuse of power by state attorneys general is unlawful and that we must protect the First Amendment rights of all Americans.

How did the attorney general respond? In an apparent attempt to avoid being subject to the anti-SLAPP law, Attorney General Walker withdrew only the D.C. subpoena, leaving the original U.S. Virgin Islands subpoena active. He also made it clear that he might reinstate the D.C. subpoena at any point in the future if he wanted to.  In short, he can continue his intimidation campaign against us and others who oppose his policy views. The withdrawal only strengthens our claim that the subpoena was illegal from the start. Because of the looming threat of the existing U.S. Virgin Islands subpoena, we have continued to push for relief under the Anti-SLAPP Act. On June 28, we will have our first day in court.

How does this affect you? All Americans should be able to advocate in support of causes they believe in. Regardless of your position on climate change, this assault on free speech is profoundly unjust. Worse, a dangerous precedent is being set. The message from these lawless government officials is: if you disagree with the government’s agenda, they can use their authority to silence you. So if the actions of this coalition of attorneys general stand, whether the issue is vaccines, GMOs, stem cell research, or any politically-charged topic, you could find a government official coming after you as well.

Our fight is your fight! It’s a battle to uphold our Constitutional freedom to debate and exchange ideas without fear of repercussion from government officials. We cannot allow the government to single out and intimidate people simply because they hold views contrary to some government official’s policy agenda.

Now what?  The right to voice your opinion on important public policies is entitled to the highest level of constitutional protection. That’s why we are vigorously fighting this unlawful attack. We hope the court will agree by honoring our request for relief from Attorney General Walker's campaign of retaliation. This is about much more than the climate change debate; it's about protecting the inalienable rights of all Americans. To learn more about our legal battle for free speech, you can check out our page here. And, if you’d like to receive updates about our fight for economic and individual freedom, join our email list here.