The Houston Chronicle’s recent editorial (“Work for Texas”, September 15, 2016) criticized my defense of the First Amendment rights of Texans in the State of Massachusetts’ lawsuit against Exxon Mobil. That’s an unusual position for a newspaper to take and is inconsistent with their professed defense of free speech. Unfortunately, in today’s society, it’s become far too commonplace for media outlets to defend free speech only when you agree with them. Thankfully, our rights guaranteed us under the Constitution aren’t left to the subjective interpretation of the media.
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has subpoenaed Exxon Mobil for 40 years’ worth of company documents and is alleging the Texas-based energy company engaged in a conspiracy to bury its scientific understanding of the consequences of burning fossil fuels on the climate. Think about that for a moment . . . 40 years of documents. She is seeking documents about climate change before the notion of climate change even existed.
Healy’s government-backed litigation, like many similar political campaigns, seeks to circumvent the democratic process. Chris Horner, with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, recently said Healey’s power grab is hardly the first time the power of the law has been misused for political ends. Horner stated in an interview with National Review, “This recent climate mob is really in some ways an extension of a recent trend in how AG offices are used to obtain results unavailable through the proper democratic process — in this case, a policy agenda — and to extract settlements to fund political allies.”
Healey’s authority to investigate potential fraud does not allow her to encroach on the constitutional freedom of free speech. Government action that restricts or chills free speech because of the message embodied within that speech contravenes the First Amendment. And that is exactly why I intervened to stop this ridiculous power grab and fishing expedition. I’m proud to be joined in this defense of free speech by the state attorneys general of Louisiana, South Carolina, Alabama, Michigan, Arizona, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah, and Nevada.
If the Massachusetts Attorney General is successful, there is nothing is to stop a state prosecutor from issuing a subpoena to a political opponent seeking decades of records on the theory that a disagreement about policy constitutes fraud. Our policy disagreements and debates should be resolved at the ballot box, not the courthouse. And using governmental power as a means to silence critics or beat political opponents should be called out, especially by our media institutions. In America, we have a right to speak out free from the fear of government punishment.
Adapting a quote from English writer Evelyn Hall, I may not agree with what you say, but as attorney general, I will use my legitimate power to defend your right to say it. While the Chronicle suggests I should not waste time on this fight, I believe this one of the important responsibilities of my job.