The Supreme Court giveth…then taketh

Lest we run amok with zeal over the Supreme Court’s rulings on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage, huge victories to be sure, the Supremes reminded us that a conservative majority has no problem with a filthy, dangerous atmosphere or with states killing criminals.

In separate 5-4 decisions, the Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority by imposing limits on fossil-fuel plants’ greenhouse gas mercury emissions and that states can use chemicals to execute criminals, even though such drugs have been linked to horrifyingly botched end-of-life events.

On plant emissions, the Clean Air Act authorized the EPA to impose restrictions, provided they were “appropriate and necessary.” One would think that the scientific consensus is sufficient to satisfy the criteria: greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise exponentially, leading to accelerated planetary warming and extreme weather events mercury poses risks to the environment. Siding with the purveyors of filth, the Court majority, led by Antonin Scalia, dismissed the science in favor of process. Here is the New York Times:

…The challengers said the agency had run afoul of that law by deciding to regulate the emissions without first undertaking a cost-benefit analysis.

The agency responded that it was not required to take costs into account when it made the initial determination to regulate. But the agency added that it did so later in setting emissions standards and that, in any event, the benefits far outweighed the costs.

The two sides had very different understandings of the costs and benefits involved. Industry groups said the government had imposed annual costs of $9.6 billion to achieve about $6 million in benefits. The agency said the costs yielded tens of billions of dollars in benefits.

Regarding executions, the Times wrote:

Lawyers for the Oklahoma inmates, with the support of experts in pharmacology and anesthetics, said midazolam, even if properly administered, was unreliable. They pointed to three executions last year that seemed to go awry.

In April 2014, Clayton D. Lockett regained consciousness during the execution procedure, writhing and moaning after the intravenous line was improperly placed. In Ohio in January 2014 and in Arizona in July, prisoners appeared to gasp and choke for extended periods.

Justice Alito wrote that the inmates had failed to identify an available and preferable method of execution or made the case that the challenged drug entailed a substantial risk of severe pain.

It did not occur to the majority in each instance to consider the larger picture—that global warming mercury pollution is bad and must be arrested and that killing people to prove that killing people is wrong. Such considerations have nothing to do with the law, sayeth the Supremes.

UPDATE (June 29, 2015):

Dave Roberts, writing for VOX, judges the EPA opinion “pointless.” Read his piece to discover why.