Free-speech advocates have reason to cheer as two state attorneys general have walked back their subpoenas against Exxon Mobil Corp., tacitly admitting that their climate-change harassment lacks a legal basis.
Virgin Islands AG Claude Walker recently withdrew his subpoena of Exxon Mobil. He was a leader among the 17 AGs charging that the oil giant defrauded shareholders by hiding the truth about global warming. That’s hard to prove when the company’s climate-change research was published in peer-reviewed journals.
Mr. Walker also targeted some 90 think tanks and other groups in an attempt to punish climate dissent. These groups and others, including these columns, pushed back on First Amendment grounds, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute counter-sued Mr. Walker and demanded sanctions. He pulled his subpoena against CEI last month.
Mr. Walker claimed he is dropping his Exxon subpoena so the U.S. Justice Department can more easily pursue its racketeering charges against the company. But that’s glitter on a surrender document. The reason the state AGs chose to pursue Exxon for shareholder fraud is because anyone with legal knowledge knows how difficult it would be for the feds to bring a successful RICO case. To our knowledge, Justice doesn’t even have such an investigation underway.
Meantime, Massachusetts AG Maura Healey filed court documents declaring she won’t enforce her subpoena against Exxon until the oil giant’s countersuits against the AGs are settled. Exxon has sued Ms. Healey in Texas federal court to quash her subpoena as a violation of its First and Fourth Amendment rights. Mrs. Healey clearly sensed the political dangers of dragging her office on a long, anti-free-speech march and is putting the investigation to the side.
That leaves California’s Kamala Harris and New York’s Eric Schneiderman as the two remaining AGs with outstanding Exxon subpoenas. Mrs. Harris joined this escapade to burnish her progressive bone fides as she runs to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer, and her office has done little investigating. Mr. Schneiderman has the most prosecutorial leeway under his state’s egregious Martin Act, which doesn’t require proof of intent in civil cases. But he has also been on the political defensive for trying to punish policy disagreements.
The climate police would do more for their cause if they spent more time persuading the public on the merits of climate risks and policy. Their resort to abusive government power suggests that they think they have a weak case.
Originally posted at The Wall Street Journal.