Tomorrow, the Supreme Court is set to rule on American Electric Power vs. Connecticut, a case where the state of Connecticut is suing a power company for contributing to global warming. Trying to research the legal details of this case is making me cry, so I hope you people appreciate the following bullet points, which will hopefully spare you having to do the same:

  • At issue, big picture: Can states and private entities sue utilities for contributing to climate change?
  • At issue, smaller pictures:
    • Do states and private entities have a leg to stand on when complaining about climate change? (We'd say yes, but we're hardly lawyers, see above.)
    • Should this be handled under federal common law, or by states?
    • If it is the provenance of federal common law, is this the right part of federal law to sue under? (Supreme Court cases tend to be painfully specific.)
  • Also, "whether claims seeking to cap carbon dioxide emissions based on a court's weighing of the potential risks of climate change against the socioeconomic utility of defendants' conduct would be governed by 'judicially discoverable and manageable standards' or could be resolved without 'initial policy determination[s] of a kind clearly for nonjudicial discretion,'" which, Jesus. No idea what that means.
  • Oh wait, I think it means "whether this should be something you can even sue over, or something that needs to be settled outside the court." But you see what I mean about the language.

This is one to watch for a couple of reasons: First, enviros want to maintain the ability to go after utilities legally, instead of waiting around for legislation to get enacted, for obvious reasons. Also, this is going to be a close one: Because Sonia Sotomayor was sitting on the Second Circuit Court when the case was originally tried (and decided in favor of Connecticut, i.e. states do have standing to sue and can go ahead and do so), she's recused herself from this one. So it could come down to a split vote. In that case, the earlier decision would stand.