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A Libel Suit Threatens Catastrophe for the Climate of Public Debate

Citations

Washington lawyers Michael A. Carvin and Anthony Dick pen an oped in The Wall Street Jounral about Michael Mann's libel lawsuit against CEI and National Review and its implications for the First Amendment. 

The First Amendment provides robust protection for political and scientific debate, but it faces a new threat from a climate activist determined to silence his critics. In a case pending before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, Penn State professor Michael Mann is waging an aggressive campaign of lawfare, accusing of defamation those who dare to question his work. So far, the courts have given this assault on free speech a green light.

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Even among those who support the theory of global warming, some have singled out Mr. Mann’s work as sloppy and exaggerated. David Hand, a former president of Britain’s Royal Statistical Society, has written that Mr. Mann’s technique “exaggerated the size of the blade at the end of the hockey stick,” which corresponds to the 20th-century temperature rise.

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Appellate courts, which exist to reverse such legal error, in this case compounded it. National Review was supported in friend-of-the-court briefs by such unlikely allies as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Washington Post and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Yet a panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals—Judges Vanessa Ruiz, Corinne Beckwith and Catharine Easterly—held in December that Mr. Mann’s suit should proceed to a jury. The court again relied on various “official” investigations that had cleared Mr. Mann of misconduct, including an inquiry by the federal government. Speech that disagrees with the government is at the core of the First Amendment’s protection—though not in this court’s topsy-turvy world.

National Review has filed a petition for rehearing along with its co-defendants, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Rand Simberg. If the full court of appeals does not correct the error and end this assault on the First Amendment, the case will doubtless proceed to the Supreme Court.

Those hoping Mr. Mann prevails because they agree with him about global warming are missing the point. If he succeeds in diminishing the right to free speech, he and his fellow climate activists have just as much to lose. Mr. Mann has attacked his critics for peddling “pure scientific fraud,” engaging in what he calls “the fraudulent denial of climate change,” and taking “corporate payoffs for knowingly lying about the threat climate change posed to humanity.” He accused Fox News of trying to “mislead its viewers” through a “deceptive” report about climate change.

Read the full article at The Wall Street Journal.