- - Thursday, June 23, 2016

For more than 200 years, the American birthright has provided protection against the threat that one’s head might hang on London Bridge — or the Key Bridge, if you prefer — for disagreeing with the government. Our highest court holds there can be no mandated, state-sanctioned opinions enforced in America under the U.S. Constitution. Now, a handful of politically motivated prosecutors are working to strip us of this birthright security.

Beware the attorneys general of several states and territories who have launched a RICO (racketeering)-styled legal inquest to fine — and potentially even jail — Exxon-funded scientists and thought leaders whose work casts doubt on the prosecutors’ state-sanctioned, politically correct views on climate change.

The planning of the inquest goes back to the year President Obama won re-election, and the first casualty of this war on free speech was Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company. In 2015, the company agreed to a settlement that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman correctly deemed “an unprecedented first step” in targeting energy companies for what they say — or do not say — about climate science, on the basis that failure to lead a PR campaign against one’s own fossil fuel product (and therefore, stock value) is somehow criminal.

The settlement leaves corporate counsel with the lesson that the safest course is for their employers to say nothing and know nothing about scientific issues — at least those that could ever conceivably affect the bottom line, even decades down the road.

What happens when Research and Development budgets are slashed, killing U.S. competitiveness in the world marketplace?

The latest assault is the attorneys’ general attempt to dip into Exxon’s deep pockets, coupled with a veiled threat to come after over 150 scientists and academics from MIT to the National Center For Policy Analysis who might have received funding from Exxon to research scientific issues and related policies.

We might expect this kind of inquisition from a theocracy, but in the United States., it is still illegal.

Yet, the lawyers have promised to use “all tools” at their disposal. They move on the attenuated theory that Exxon: (1) developed secret science (as if climate data points were somehow unavailable to everyone else); (2) successfully obscured this science to boost profits (as if setting the world’s oil price were within Exxon’s power); and (3) achieved this result by funding scientists and experts that were critical of climate change policies (their constitutionally protected right).

An attack on free speech? Yes. On academic freedom? Of course.

With that dubious theory in place, the discussion by prosecutors now centers on what should be done to punish Exxon and experts that have, now or at any time since the 1980s, publicly expressed disagreement with the current government’s preferred climate scientists and policies.

These policies strip Americans of sovereignty and rights, redistribute our wealth, and thereby accomplish nothing less — proponents urge — than the restructuring of the earth’s geo-realities, altering the climate and halting the very rise of the oceans. And if you state publicly that you do not fully buy into the premises or promises of Mr. Obama’s climate plan — with the requisite cash and rights concessions — you could find yourself on a prosecutor’s list of dissidents and heretics.

As Peter Doran of the Center for European Policy Analysis points out, Exxon is being held to an impossible corporate governance standard, requiring that science completed today must support the scientific conclusions of any prosecutor’s choosing — 40 years from now.

What the prosecutors are doing to Exxon and scientists is moving from the Rule of Law to the Rule of Man.

When the Constitution no longer has meaning, its protections are lost to the mercy of whoever is elected or appointed. What a capricious game. So, if the prosecutors’ favored climate scientists are refuted by a future President Trump’s climate experts, does Mr. Trump get to jail them under RICO for propping up the fortunes of green tech groups who contributed to their campaigns? How do you like the climate inquest precedent now?

Counter to the president’s claims, the greatest threat to Americans is not climate change, nor is it Exxon’s climate change research; the greatest threat is unfettered government, and the threat looms larger as the election year wears on.

Jacki Pick, an executive vice president and general counsel at the National Center for Policy Analysis., served as counsel for the chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Constitution.

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