EPA authorized to reduce emissions, not the courts

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled out a federal lawsuit Monday by states and conservation groups trying to force cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The court said that the authority to seek reductions in emissions rests with the Environmental Protection Agency, not the courts.

EPA said in December that it will issue new regulations by next year to reduce power plants’ emissions of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas. The Obama administration has already started controlling heat-trapping pollution from automobiles and from some industrial plants.

But the administration’s actions have come under criticism in Congress, where the GOP-controlled House has passed a bill to strip the EPA from using the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming gases.

In pushing to curtail EPA’s work, Republicans have accused the administration of acting unilaterally after failing to get a bill passed to deal with the problem. The administration has said the overwhelming scientific evidence has compelled it to act under existing law.


No lawyers, but fair hearing required for civil defendants

A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday refused to require states to provide lawyers for poor people in civil cases involving incarceration but did order state officials to ensure that those hearings are “fundamentally fair” to the person facing possible detention.

The justices voted 5-4 along ideological lines to uphold the appeal of Michael Turner, a South Carolina man sent to jail for up to 12 months after he insisted he could not afford his child support payments. Turner had no lawyer, and claimed all people facing jail time have a constitutional right to an attorney.

Justice Stephen Breyer would not go that far. But he said Turner was never told his ability to pay was the crucial question at his civil contempt hearing, no one provided him with a form that would have helped him disclose his financial information, and the state court never officially determined whether Turner had the ability to pay the child support he owed.

“Under these circumstances, Turner’s incarceration violated the Due Process Clause,” Breyer said.