Black people, low-income communities, and other marginalized groups have historically borne the brunt of environmental hazards. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will join the Supreme Court when issues related to environmental regulation are presented next term, has garnered support among leading environmental organizations who feel she’s qualified to rule fairly on public health.
“Jackson has demonstrated a commitment to upholding laws that protect our planet and its people,” Earthjustice, a non-profit public interest environmental law organization, stated in its endorsement.
According to a 2017 report from the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP, over 1 million Black people live in counties that face a cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern from toxins emitted by natural gas facilities. In addition, more than 6.7 Black people live in 91 counties with oil refineries.
Asthma, a health problem linked to poor air quality, runs high in the Black community, with 13.4% of Black children having asthma, compared to 7.3% of white children. As a result of ozone increases due to natural gas emissions during the summer ozone season, the report stated, Black children face 138,000 asthma attacks annually and 101,000 lost school days each year.
Earthjustice went on to note that Jackson’s “environmental record reveals her ability to understand complex regulatory and statutory issues and appropriately apply the facts to the law.”
In 2019, as a federal judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Jackson ruled that Guam could move forward in its lawsuit against the federal government after the U.S. Navy established a hazardous landfill on the island in the 1940s. While Jackson’s ruling in the Guam v. United States case was reversed by a D.C. Circuit panel, it later went before the Supreme Court, which ruled that Guam could, in fact, pursue its lawsuit.
In a statement, Manish Bapna, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council — an international non-profit organization made up of over 3 million members and activists — said, “It’s long past time for the Court to have a Black woman on the bench, where her decisions and views will be both grounded in her legal expertise and informed by the values and insights of her lived experience.”
“Often the Supreme Court has the last word on how, and sometimes whether, our laws designed to protect the environment and public health are enforced,” Bapna said in the statement. “This year alone, the Court will hear two cases that could have a profound impact on the government’s ability to address the climate crisis and protect the nation’s wetlands, streams and waterways.”
In February, the Supreme Court heard West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, a case that questioned whether EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in various industries, as long as it considers cost, non-air impacts, and energy requirements.
The case comes after the 2015 Clean Power Plan, which limited carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, was repealed by the Trump Administration. While Jackson missed out on this highly-anticipated case, there are others in the pipeline that’d she rule in, if confirmed.
“Those cases underscore the importance of confirming justices and judges, like Jackson, who respect precedent and recognize the government’s role in addressing consequential societal issues, like protecting the environment and public health,” Bapna said.
Jackson will be seated on the Supreme Court in time for Sackett v. EPA, a case that seeks to interpret the Clean Water Act and decide what land falls within the EPA’s wetland regulatory jurisdiction.
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