Meaningless, Mean-Spirited McCarthyism: Lamar Smith’s Ironic Investigations

Meaningless, Mean-Spirited McCarthyism: Lamar Smith’s Ironic Investigations
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This is a guest post by ClimateDenierRoundup

Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who’s received more funding from fossil fuels than any other industry, has repeated his request for private communications between the attorneys general investigating what #ExxonKnew and a handful of NGOs who have exercised their constitutional right to petition those AGs.

As chair of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Smith has taken it upon himself to return Congress to the glory days of Joseph McCarthy, only instead of smoking out communists, Smith is hunting for those who threaten his fossil fuel donor base.

Though the McCarthy comparison may seem hyperbolic, it is unfortunately all too literal. Smith is, at least implicitly, embracing McCarthyism. To justify his demands for information, Smith invokes two Supreme Court rulings that dealt with the infamously paranoid and ruinous Congressman. In essence, Smith seems to think that anything McCarthy could do, he can do better.

Even more embarrassing is that one of the two cases Smith cites shows that not only is his harassment campaign unjustified, but it is in fact doubly unconstitutional. This information and the quotes that follow are from a letter that Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent him on June 23 (h/t ICN) after Smith demanded documents last month. You may remember Congresswoman Johnson as the one who sent Smith a letter in response to his NOAA harassment that was described as a blisteringly brutal thing of beauty. This latest letter is just as good, if not better, throwing shade harder than a Drake diss track and calling out irony better than Alanis Morissette ever could.   

In addition to identifying multiple ways that “This ‘investigation’ is illegitimate” (like how Smith is violating the Tenth Amendment by usurping states’ power) and an “abuse of authority,” Johnson looked into the two SCOTUS cases Smith invoked to justify his witch hunt. Johnson writes: “Both of these cases involved the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)…If ever there was an example of a ‘witch hunt’ in the history of the United States Congress, the HUAC investigations best fit the bill. For that reason, it is more than a little disconcerting that [Smith] think[s] those cases’ fact patterns so closely resemble your own investigation.”  

But it gets even worse than merely mimicking McCarthy, as Smith has done, because “Rather than supporting the legal grounds of [Smith’s] investigation, the Watkins decision is actually an indictment against it.” So, she writes, “based on the legal authorities [Smith himself has] cited, this ‘investigation’ violates the Constitution.” This means that Smith is not only aware that he’s following in McCarthy’s footsteps, but also that he can’t even be factually accurate in doing so.

As per the Watkins ruling, the only way Smith’s investigation would be legitimate would be if Congress were considering legislation relevant to the issue, the most plausible of which Johnson says would be “altering Federal fraud and RICO Act statutes to inappropriately help Big Oil avoid potential liability.” But even then Smith wouldn’t have jurisdiction, because “such a bill would not come anywhere near the jurisdiction of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology.”

Ironically, under the guise of protecting ExxonMobil’s constitutional right to free speech, Smith is himself acting unconstitutionally. And in doing so, he is infringing on the constitutional right of NGOs to petition their government to enforce their laws (in this case by investigating potential fraud.) That’s two unconstitutionals in one! What a deal!

Finally, Johnson points out the irony of Smith’s accusation that the #ExxonKnew investigations might be “having a chilling effect on the free flow of scientific inquiry and debate regarding climate change.” But of course, if anyone is guilty of such a “chilling” it would be Smith, who spent months attacking NOAA over a study that debunked the denier-favorite “pause.” And what of that witch hunt? “In the end, [Smith’s] investigation, like so many recent Science Committee investigations, found nothing.”

Which is why she describes the Committee as becoming “more like a Committee on Harassment. The Committee’s prolific, aimless and jurisdictionally questionable oversight activities have grown increasingly mean-spirited and meaningless.”

Harsh words from Johnson, but fair given that Smith is acting as though he’s Chair of the House Un-Scientific Activities Committee. May we suggest a catchy new jingle for Mr. McCarthy 2.0? Double the unconstitutionality, double the irony, in the statements from the Committee of Harassment for Fun.

Meaningless, Mean-Spirited McCarthyism: Lamar Smith’s Ironic Investigations

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