How Antonin Scalia’s death could save the planet

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is a tragedy, but it may have saved the planet.

Let’s back up a minute. Climate change is going to turn the world into an unlivable hellscape that will probably result in the death of mankind as we know it.

Our best hope for survival has been the historic climate accords in Paris. (Look at how happy Al Gore is!)

The agreement in Paris is a big deal. Check out what President Barack Obama said about it around minute 5 in this clip:

“The Paris Climate Accord is perhaps the most important action that has ever been taken on climate change,” Adrianna Quintero, the Director of Partner Engagement at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Fusion. “It’s important because so many—almost all the countries in the world—came together to agree that action must be taken.”

The core part of President Obama’s plan to hit the emissions target promised in the Paris Deal was something called the Clean Power Plan.

It basically forced the Environmental Protection Agency to force electric power plants to drastically reduce carbon emissions.

But, just last week, the Supreme Court threw a wrench into Obama’s plans.

Basically the Supreme Court said, “Not so fast, Barack. I know that this is the central part of your plan to save the planet, but these big energy companies say that it hurts them, so we’re going to side with them for now.”

All hope seemed lost.

The Court’s decision put the entire Paris Climate Accord in jeopardy.

“Yeah that was huge,” Dahlia Lithwick, a Senior Editor covering courts and law for Slate, said. “I think the New York Times said it was ‘unprecedented in history.’”

“They essentially reached out and before the case had even been argued—it was supposed to be argued in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in June—they said, ‘We’re not even going to wait for it to come up on appeal. We’re going to enjoin it now.’ That was really really dramatic,” Lithwick said, adding that just a week ago the law seemed doomed.

But then, something happened that no one could’ve predicted: Scalia died.

The death of Antonin Scalia, arguably the most influential conservative justice in decades, swings the balance of the court away from the conservatives and towards the liberals.

“It’s really big with the Supreme Court having 8 members now,” said Scott Lemieux, Professor of Political Science at College of Saint Rose in Albany, N.Y. (He also writes for a bunch of places, like the Guardian and his blog.) “In a weird way, Scalia passing away is in the short term better for the Clean Power Act surviving.”

Suddenly, the Supreme Court overturning Obama’s plan is no longer a sure thing. In fact, even if Obama’s nominee to replace Scalia is not confirmed by the Senate (which is very likely, with Republicans promising a boycott of any nominee) a 4-4 tie would still probably be a good thing for the President’s plan.

“If nobody has been seated, if it’s a 4-4 court, then the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is the law,” Lithwick said. “The lower court beneath the Supreme Court is upheld.”


“Almost certainly the D.C. Circuit will rule in favor of the Obama administration,” Lemieux said. He added: “In that sense this is a real sea change because it looked a week ago as if this law was doomed,” Lithwick said.

So there you have it. Scalia’s death means that the United States still has a fighting chance to meet its commitments that would allow the Paris Climate Accord to stand. The only thing that can stop it now is if a Republican wins the election in November. Then the planet is really screwed.