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Justices to hear global warming case

by: Johanna Neuman    26 June 2006

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed today to take a case that could determine whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency starts regulating greenhouse gases to combat global warming.

Environmental groups argued that the EPA is obligated to limit carbon dioxide emissions from cars under the Clean Air Act because they are a pollutant. The Bush administration has argued for voluntary measures to reduce dependence on oil and gas.

"This is the whole ball of wax," David Bookbinder, attorney for the Sierra Club, told the Associated Press. "This will determine whether the EPA is to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and … regulate carbon dioxide from power plants."

Bookbinder said a negative ruling by the court could jeopardize plans by California and other states to require reductions in emissions from automobiles.

In other news, the court today:

• Ruled that Vermont's limits on campaign contributions and candidate spending are too restrictive.

In 1997, Vermont passed a campaign finance law that capped spending at $300,000 for gubernatorial candidates.

Contributions were limited to as little as $200 per cycle for state House races.

"At some point, the constitutional risks to the democratic electoral process become too great," wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote one of six separate opinions in the case. The law is so severe, he said, it could "itself prove an obstacle to the very electoral fairness it seeks to promote."

• Ruled that Kansas' death penalty law is constitutional. On a 5-4 vote, with Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito breaking the tie, the justices held up the Kansas law, which requires juries to impose the death penalty if aggravating evidence of a crime's brutality is equal in weight to mitigating factors in the defendant's favor.

The four liberals on the high court dissented vociferously. Justice David Souter wrote that "in the face of evidence of the hazards of capital prosecution," the Kansas law is "obtuse by any moral or social measure."

• Refused to consider appeals from abortion rights groups that wanted to block states from issuing specialty license plates bearing the message "Choose Life."

About a dozen states allow drivers to pay an extra fee for specialty car tags that demonstrate their opposition to abortion. In two states, Louisiana and Tennessee, abortion rights advocates failed to win legislative battles to offer drivers an alternative "Choose Choice" tags.