First Amendment Fight: CEI’s Climate Change Subpoena
On March 29, 2016, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and 16 other state attorneys general, joined by Al Gore, launched an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate policy debate. These AGs called themselves, “AGs United for Clean Power,” and one of their very first targets was the Competitive Enterprise Institute. On April 7, 2016, CEI received a subpoena from U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker demanding a full decade’s worth of our communications, emails, statements, and other documents regarding energy and climate policy. Those documents included private donor information.
For the next few months, CEI and our allies worked together to beat back this subpoena. We succeeded, and in June 2016, AG Walker dropped his unlawful subpoena. However, that is not enough—it’s not enough for a government official to simply stop behaving badly. AG Walker violated one of the most fundamental principles of American democracy.
CEI filed sanctions against AG Walker, and we are awaiting a ruling on this motion. There must be a consequence for AG Walker's offensive use of government power to harass and silence people who hold differing opinions. This cannot be tolerated.
TIMELINE: Fighting the Subpoena
- Wednesday, April 20, 2016: CEI filed an objection to the subpoena calling it "offensive," "un-American," and "unlawful."
- Friday, May 13, 2016: Walker’s local attorney informed CEI that they rejected the organization’s legal arguments, but they would withdraw the DC subpoena. Walker’s attorney gave us no decision about the underlying Virgin Islands subpoena, but she did note that Walker might reissue the DC subpoena if he changed his mind in the future.
- Wednesday, May 18, 2016: CEI sponsored a full-page advertisement in The New York Times highlighting abusive efforts by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, U.S. Virgin Islands Attorney General Claude Walker, and a coalition of other “AGs United for Clean Power” to silence the speech of the more than 100 businesses, nonprofits, and private individuals who question the AGs’ positions on climate change.
- Friday, May 27, 2016: We moved for sanctions in DC Superior Court.
- Tuesday, June 28, 2016: DC Superior Court held a hearing on our motion for sanctions. In opposing our motion, Walker’s local counsel argued that Walker was conducting an ongoing investigation of ExxonMobil for fraud, and that he had a legitimate interest in CEI documents. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal on June 24, 2016, Walker said that he was subpoenaing CEI for information that “can shed light” on whether we “broke the law,” which is more than intimidation, it’s an accusation. The judge stated that she’d be issuing a ruling in due time.
- Wednesday, June 29, 2016: Walker announced that he was withdrawing his Exxon subpoena.
- Thursday, June 30, 2016: Walker announced he was withdrawing his Virgin Islands CEI subpoena. We immediately informed the court of these developments, pointing out that the withdrawal of the Exxon subpoena was seriously at odds with what his attorney had told the court at the hearing.
- What’s next? Our motion for sanctions against AG Walker is pending, and we are awaiting the court’s ruling. We also successfully sued Eric Schneiderman’s office under New York State’s freedom of information law, obtaining an official copy of the founding document of his AG coalition—the Common Interest Agreement. For more information on that case, see https://cei.org/litigation/cei-v-attorney-general-new-york
CEI has long been a champion of sound climate change policy, and opposed previous attempts to use McCarthy-style tactics by officials aiming to limit discussions between nonprofit policy groups and the private sector regarding federal policies.
CEI President Kent Lassman said:
"Walker’s subpoenas are a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, and the clear conclusion to draw following his withdrawal of the ExxonMobil subpoena is that these subpoenas were a baseless fishing expedition from the beginning. All Americans have the right to support causes they believe in and the CEI subpoena is an abuse of the legal system and an effort to intimidate and silence individuals who disagree with certain attorneys general on the climate debate. Disagreeing with a government official is not a crime; abusing government power to take away Americans’ rights is."
CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said:
“Our case for sanctions against Walker is stronger than ever. Even aside from questions of misrepresentation to the court, Walker’s decision to yank his subpoenas in the face of legal challenges indicates that he had no valid reason to issue them in the first place. And that makes the need for sanctions even clearer—because when a law enforcement officer breaks the law, it’s not enough for him to simply stop behaving badly. A violation like this of the First Amendment needs to be paid for, because that’s the best way of ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.”
October 19, 2016 | Virgin Islands Response to CEI Notice of Supplemental Authority
October 17, 2016 | CEI Notice of Supplemental Authority
August 31, 2016 | CEI v. The Attorney General of New York
June 30, 2016 | Letter Detailing Dismissal of VI Subpoena
June 17, 2016 | CEI Opposition to Cross-Motion
May 27, 2016 | Motion for Fees
May 20, 2016 | Notice of Termination of D.C. Subpoena
May 13, 2016 | Letter Announcing Plan to End DC Action
May 10, 2016 | Letter from CEI’s Attorney to USVI’s Attorney
April 20, 2016 | CEI Objections to Attorney General Walker's Subpoena
April 20, 2016 | Letter to Attorney General Walker
April 12, 2016 | Letter to Sam Kazman
May 23, 2016 | Virgin Islands AG Withdraws DC Subpoena of CEI
May 18, 2016 | CEI Runs “Abuse of Power” Ad In New York Times
April 20, 2016 | CEI Strikes Back At Unlawful Subpoena
April 7, 2016 | CEI Fights Subpoena to Silence Debate on Climate Change
March 29, 2017 | Sam Kazman | One Year Later AGs United for Clean Power has Fallen Apart
August 23, 2016 | Kent Lassman | Our Fight against Government Intimidation
July 1, 2016 | Sam Kazman | Shake Up in Subpoena Land
June 27, 2016 | CEI Staff | How CEI Is Defending Your Right To Speak Freely
June 14, 2016 | Hans Bader | Attorney General Schneiderman's Lame Defense of Speech-Chilling Climate Change Investigation
June 09, 2016 | Sam Kazman | A Complaint We Didn't Expect to Hear: Virgin Islands Attorney General Now Says We're Wasting His Time
April 22, 2016 | The Washington Post | Kent Lassman and Sam Kazman | The Environmental Campaign that Punishes Free Speech
April 13, 2016 | Kent Lassman | CEI Will Surmount Crimethink Persecution
April 12, 2016 | Marlo Lewis | Our Take: The Climate-Related Subpoena
April 12, 2016 | What Others are Saying About CEI's Climate Change Subpoena
April 8, 2016 | Myron Ebell | Attorney General's Climate Investigation Subpoenas CEI
April 8, 2016 | Hans Bader | Attorneys General Launch Intimidation Campaign with Subpoena against CEI
August 31, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal | Editorial | Schneiderman’s Climate Secrets
August 31, 2016 | Politico | Elana Schor | Conservative think tank sues Schneiderman over Exxon probe records
July 23, 2016 | The Hill | Timothy Cama | Exxon Allies Cry Foul Over Law Firm in Climate Probe
July 8, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal | Editorial | The Climate Police Crack-Up
June 29, 2016 | The Hill | Timothy Cama | Virgin Islands Withdraws Climate Subpoena Against Exxon
June 29, 2016 | The Washington Post | Hans A. von Spakovsky | The Real Victim in the ExxonMobil Lawsuit is the First Amendment
June 29, 2016 | Washington Examiner | John Siciliano | Dem AG Backs Down in Exxon Climate Fight
June 15, 2016 | Wall Street Journal | Editorial | The Climate Police Blink
May 27, 2016 | Fox News | Bret Baier | VIDEO: Sam Kazman Discusses CEI's Climate Change Subpoena on Fox News
May 20, 2016 | The New York Times | John Schwartz | State Officials Investigated Over Their Inquiry Into Exxon Mobil’s Climate Change Research
May 16, 2016 | The Washington Times | Valerie Richardson | Think Tank Asks Court to Fine Virgin Islands A.G. After He Agrees to Pull Climate Subpoena
May 8, 2016 | Richmond Times-Dispatch| Editorial | Political Inquisitions on the Rise
April 30, 2016 | The Wall Street Journal | Editorial | The Climate Police Escalate
April 25, 2016 | Financial Times | Editorial | Climate Change Sceptics Must Be Able to Speak Out
April 22, 2016 | Washington Post | George Will | Scientific Silencers on the Left are Trying to Shut Down Climate Skepticism
April 19, 2016 | National Review | Rich Lowry | Eric Schneiderman and His Gang of AGs Are Trampling the First Amendment
April 13, 2016 | U.S. News and World Report | Peter Roff | Climate Change Witch Hunt
April 12, 2016 | The Washington Times | Editorial | Intimidation through Investigation
April 11, 2016 | USA Today | Glenn Harlan Reynolds | Dear Attorneys General, Conspiring Against Free Speech is a Crime
April 8, 2016 | The Blaze | Fred Lucas | ‘Outrageous Violation of the First Amendment’: State AGs Take the Next Step in Going After Climate Change Skeptics
April 8, 2016| The Hill | Devin Henry | Think Tank Vows to Fight Climate Change Subpoena
April 8, 2016 | Overlawyered | Walter Olson | CEI Subpoenaed over Climate Wrongthink
April 8, 2016 | Bloomberg | Megan McArdle | Subpoeaned Into Silence on Global Warming
June 16, 2016 | Media Call with CEI
June 15, 2016 | ExxonMobil’s Complaint in US District Court against AG Healey
April 19, 2016 | Civil Investigative Demand of Exxon from Massachusetts AG Healey
April 13, 2016 | Complaint in Exxon Mobil Corporation v. Claude Earl Walker et. al. (Texas District Court)
June 2015 | Marlo Lewis | Report: Time for a Sensible Sense of Congress Resolution on Climate Change