Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Prosecuting Those Who Force a Scientist to Resign

Subtitle:  Is Intimidation Free of Consequences?

Is there, or should there be, a penalty for intimidating or oppressing a scientist merely for joining the advisory board of an organization that is skeptical of the mainstream climate change consensus?   We have that very situation today, as a noted scientist, Lennart Bengtsson, publicly resigned from the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation
Attorney arguing his case
(GWPF) due to what he wrote is "enormous group pressure from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me."  Also, "Colleagues are withdrawing their support, other colleagues are withdrawing from joint authorship, etc."  Several blogs carried the story, see here, see here, and see here.  (JoAnne Nova, WattsUpWithThat, and Climate Etc., respectively)

It is notable that GWPF is a non-profit UK organization.  If this occurred in the United States, one remedy would be prosecution of those who applied the pressure for violation of the federal statute Title 18, United States Code, Section 241.  

18 U.S.C. 241: (in pertinent part)

"If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; . . .
They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both. . . .

Being a federal statute, prosecution would be by the US Department of Justice and one of the US Attorneys.  Investigation to obtain evidence sufficient to indict would be by one of the federal investigatory agencies, perhaps the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The first question becomes, what evidence is there to support the existence of a conspiracy between two or more persons to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate a scientist to resign a board position?   

A second question is, what right or privilege provided by the U.S. Constitution or laws of the Unites States is at issue here?  

Evidence can be from testimony of eyewitnesses, documents, electronic communications, and many other forms.  Presumably, Dr. Bengtsson has sufficient evidence on which he based his decision to resign.  There could be a number of hurdles to obtain the evidence, perhaps claims of privilege, or exemption from discovery, or other obstacles.  The judge would rule on the admissibility of the evidence.

The Constitutional right or privilege at issue, again recognizing that GWPF is not in the United States, would be the First Amendment right to freedom of association.  The U.S. Supreme Court gave a definition of freedom of association when it stated that 

"the Court has recognized a right to associate for the purpose of engaging in those activities protected by the First Amendment - speech, assembly, petition for the redress of grievances, and the exercise of religion. The Constitution guarantees freedom of association of this kind as an indispensable means of preserving other individual liberties."  (Roberts v United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 618 (1984))  There are many, many other cases on the same issue.  

As above, the sentence upon conviction of 18 U.S.C. 241 ranges from a fine to imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both.    While it is the wrong jurisdiction for Dr. Bengtsson to seek some redress under this law, perhaps such a U.S. trial, conviction, and sentence would serve as a caution to others who seek to intimidate, oppress, or threaten those who wish to join a society that espouses the skeptical position on man-made global warming.  I am not versed in the law of the UK, however, a legal advisor in the UK could provide guidance to Dr. Bengtsson on any similar basis for a criminal or even civil case.   

Whether a U.S. Attorney would prosecute the case is a different matter.  However, it would require only one such trial and conviction, with the attendant publicity, for most would-be intimidators to back off.   Given the current U.S. President's public stance on man-made global warming, it is unlikely that such a prosecution would occur.  However, Presidents change every 4 or 8 years, so perhaps a new President in two more years will take a different approach. 

Disclosure: my position as a skeptic on the causes of climate change is given in some detail in previous blog posts, (see My JourneyWarmists are WrongChemical Engineer Takes on WarmingCold WintersClimate Science is Not Settled, and others)

A related article on SLB discussed criminal prosecution of those who fund research into climate science, and report out as skeptics of the man-made global warming issue. see link for "Are Climate Skeptics Legally Liable for Criminal Negligence." 

Mandatory Disclaimer:  The above is written to provide an overview of a general area of the law, and is not intended, nor is it to be relied on, as legal advice for a particular set of facts. Anyone seeking legal advice should contact a qualified attorney. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California 


1 comment:

Michael Cunningham said...

Thanks, Roger. Bengtsson gave no details of what prompted his resignation, but it appears likely to fall foul of the law you describe.