CEI subpoenaed over climate wrongthink

The campaign to attach legal consequences to supposed “climate denial” has now crossed a fateful line:

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) today denounced a subpoena from Attorney General Claude E. Walker of the U.S. Virgin Islands that attempts to unearth a decade of the organization’s materials and work on climate change policy. This is the latest effort in an intimidation campaign to criminalize speech and research on the climate debate, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and former Vice President Al Gore….

The subpoena requests a decade’s worth of communications, emails, statements, drafts, and other documents regarding CEI’s work on climate change and energy policy, including private donor information. It demands that CEI produce these materials from 20 years ago, from 1997-2007, by April 30, 2016.

CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman said the group “will vigorously fight to quash this subpoena. It is an affront to our First Amendment rights of free speech and association.” More coverage of the subpoena at the Washington Times and Daily Caller.

A few observations:

  • If the forces behind this show-us-your-papers subpoena succeed in punishing (or simply inflicting prolonged legal harassment on) groups conducting supposedly wrongful advocacy, there’s every reason to think they will come after other advocacy groups later. Like yours.
  • This article in the Observer details the current push to expand the probe of climate advocacy, which first enlisted New York AG Eric Schneiderman and then California’s Kamala Harris, into a broader coalition of AGs, with Massachusetts and the Virgin Islands just having signed on. More than a dozen others, such as Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, seem to be signaling support but have not formally jumped in. More: Peggy Little, Federalist Society.
  • CEI people, many of them longtime friends of this site, have been active critics of the Schneiderman effort, with Hans Bader, a senior attorney there, highly critical just a week ago.
  • In these working groups of attorneys general, legal efforts are commonly parceled out among the states in a deliberate and strategic way, with particular tasks being assigned to AGs who have comparative advantage in some respect (such as an unusually favorable state law to work with, or superior staff expertise or media access). Why would one of the most politically sensitive tasks of all — opening up a legal attack against CEI, a long-established nonprofit well known in Washington and in libertarian and conservative ideological circles — be assigned to the AG from a tiny and remote jurisdiction? Is it that a subpoena coming from the Virgin Islands is logistically inconvenient to fight in some way, or that local counsel capable of standing up to this AG are scarce on the ground there, or that a politician in the Caribbean is less exposed to political backlash from CEI’s friends and fans than one in a major media center? Or what?
  • I recommend checking out the new Free Speech and Science Project, which intends to fight back against criminalization of advocacy by, among other things, organizing legal defense and seeking to hold officials accountable for misusing the law to attack advocacy.
  • This is happening at a time of multiple, vigorous, sustained legal attacks on what had been accepted freedoms of advocacy and association. As I note in a new piece at Cato, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has just demanded that the Securities and Exchange Commission investigate several large corporations that have criticized her pet plan to impose fiduciary legal duties on retirement advisors, supposedly on the ground that it is a securities law violation for them to be conveying to investors a less alarmed view of the regulations’ effect than they do in making their case to the Labor Department. This is not particularly compelling as securities law, but it’s great as a way to chill speech by publicly held businesses.

[cross-posted at Cato at Liberty and reprinted at FEE; see also new Cato podcast with CEI’s Myron Ebell (“fishing expedition… threatens our future… designed to shut us up.”)]


  • […] for the offense of thinking wrong about climate change, CEI has become the target of a subpoena to reveal the culprits of its […]

  • Two years ago (almost to the day) I wrote this about the “Corrective Statements” U.S. District Judge Judy Kessler ordered the tobacco companies to make in the wake of the DOJ’s successful RICO case against the industry. You tell me if it sounds familiar:

    Disagreement with Tobacco Control Now Punishable By Law

    No issue is taken with the prescribed statements about primary smoking. That ship has sailed. What’s at stake here are the ordered statements about secondhand smoke.

    They begin with the major tobacco companies having to state that they “deliberately deceived the public about the health effects of secondhand smoke,” followed by a “The truth is…” list of [health] effects…

    …Two branches of government acting in concert have just directed that not only will they not hear of disagreement but that one must be forced to speak the government line…

    …Despite the stranglehold our modern day Prohibitionists’ have on the flow of information, effectively blacking or drowning out opposing views in the news, claims of effects on health by so-called secondhand smoke remains controversial. The science is not settled. In fact, the “undeniable” has crystal clearly been denied…

    …Criticism of [studies that arrive at this different conclusion] doesn’t absolve any who force a confession of sin from a defendant who can provide tangible reason for honestly believing differently…

    ..Let it also be clear none of this is to defend the tobacco companies that are but a red flag exhibit, but to denounce the elimination of dissent…

    …Despising the tobacco industry is no refuge for what the secondhand smoke portion of those “correctives” portend for everyone’s freedom to dissent when one is refused their honest belief, based on multitudes of material, that something remains genuinely open to debate.

    (Full post here: http://stopquestionfrisk.blogspot.com/2014/04/disagreement-with-tobacco-control-now.html)


    So reading this news about CEI leaves me thoroughly disgusted… because it’s happening and because I called it.

  • The Republican Senate are presented with a perfect vehicle for the November campaign– hearings on threats to the Bill of Rights (especially to the freedom of speech and mass dissemination of speech– the press), and the vital role of Federal Courts in turning back such threats. Space out the hearings on a monthly basis until November.

    The Republican Senators are fools if they clam up about the Courts as if they had something to hide.

  • Pardon my ignorance, but exactly how does a subpoena for information, on activities elsewhere, get enforced from the US Virgin Islands? Jurisdiction anyone, or is that a non-operative concept now?

  • Excellent post, Walter. Here are a few items of mine on the ‘progressive’ campaign to criminalize “fossil fuel companies and their allies.”

    “Dems Ask S.E.C. to Target Shell,” GlobalWarming.Org, 8 March 2016: http://www.globalwarming.org/2016/03/08/climate-bullies-dems-ask-s-e-c-to-target-shell/

    “Schneiderman Targets Peabody Energy: Shareholder Protection or War on Coal?” Public Utility Fortnightly, March 2016, https://cei.org/sites/default/files/Lewis%20Marlo%20Public%20Utilities%20Fortnightly.pdf

    “Are the RICO20 Guilty of Racketeering?” OpenMarket.Org, 15 October 2015, https://cei.org/blog/are-rico-20-guilty-racketeering

  • This is the kind of blatant, outrageous action to which the founders took exception. No one WANTS an insurrection, but forms of government are agreed to for the sole purpose of protecting those natural rights given by the Creator and “…whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” The left will not be satisfied until we are slaves to its ideology or imprisoned for our dissent.

  • Lawfare has crossed the Rubicon…..only a violent civil war can result unless sound minds prevail.

  • Quick… Hire Mark Steyn for the defendants’ spokesman. I want to see him do to these clowns what he did to Senator Ed Markey. Sell Tickets!!!

  • Time to file counter suit against these socialists. These AG’s can’t be allowed to continue this affront to our Constitution without being held accountable.

    • Would be amusing as hell to see Patrick Morrisey the AG of West Virginia file charges against Claude E. Walker for violations of the civil rights of personnel of CEI, and insist he defend himself in West Virginia!

  • […] I’ve made it clear where I stand on global warming: I think it’s real, I think we are causing it, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be bad, I don’t think our government has a clue what to do about it. Yet, I feel very comfortable saying that this is bullshit: […]

  • […] Silence the critics! Walter Olson reports about CEI subpoenaed over climate wrongthink. […]

  • […] we noted on Friday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, more recently joined by several other state attorneys […]

  • […] fill a library. (This incident has not filled me with ambition to learn more law, either.) The blog Overlawyered (amen) […]

  • More reason to vote for anything that runs as a Republican and then our DOJ can sue Gore and his ilk. Yay for freedom

  • Are the AGs engaging in a conspiracy here? RICO anyone?

  • […] advocacy groups later,” Walter Olson, a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute, wrote on his blog. “Like […]

  • […] on some companies’ criticism of the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, hope it’s still OK for the rest of us to talk about it [Thaya Brook Knight, […]

  • […] generally here and specifically on the subpoena of the Competitive Enterprise Institute here and […]

  • […] plaintiff’s lawyer and union ally, Harris recently surfaced as an apparently key player in the alliance of state attorneys general intent on using criminal […]