Environmental and government accountability advocates on Tuesday expressed concern over a report that President-elect Joe Biden is considering a corporate attorney who defended oil giant Royal Dutch Shell in climate liability lawsuits for the post of solicitor general.
HuffPost reports David Frederick, a partner at the Washington, D.C.-based law firm Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, can boast some solid progressive victories in the U.S. Supreme Court. He represented Tyson Foods workers in a successful wage theft case, took on tobacco titan Altria over false claims of "safer" cigarettes, and argued against a BP gas facility in Delaware, to name but a handful of the at least 50 cases Frederick has argued before the nation's highest court.
"Experience in the energy industry is not a prerequisite for solicitor general, and there are plenty of people who have extensive careers that don't include defending oil companies."
However, Frederick also defended Shell against lawsuits seeking to hold the company—which has known about the dangers of anthropogenic climate change since at least the 1980s—legally liable for the damage it has caused. Frederick argued that such suits have no legitimate legal grounds and should be dismissed. He further asserted that Shell could only be sued for climate issues in the Netherlands, where the company is based.
Frederick's position in the lawsuits stands in stark conflict with several members of the incoming Biden administration including Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, secretary of state nominee Antony Blinken, climate envoy John Kerry, climate czar Gina McCarthy, and health and human services secretary pick Xavier Becerra—all of whom have signed legal briefs in support of a lawsuit brought by Oakland and San Francisco against five fossil fuel companies.
Some progressive advocates argue Frederick's defense of Shell should disqualify him from consideration for solicitor general, noting that Biden campaigned on promises of holding those responsible for the climate crisis accountable—he even threatened to prosecute and imprison Big Oil executives complicit in such crimes.
Speaking at a December 2019 town hall-style campaign event in Peterborough, New Hampshire, Biden declared that he would hold fossil fuel corporation leaders "liable for what they have done," adding that "when they don't want to deliver, put them in jail; I'm not joking about this."
The U.S. government's top legal advocate should not be a lawyer who fought for Big Oil.
— 350 dot org (@350) January 5, 2021
David Frederick could have done many things with his legal talents. He chose to use them to help Shell evade accountability for lying to the public and driving the climate crisis.
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David Frederick should not be solicitor generalhttps://t.co/ig6IDgRrZn
— Law Students for Climate Accountability (@Ls4Ca) January 5, 2021
"Naming a lawyer who has represented Shell, one the worst and most deceptive climate polluters, as the government's top legal advocate would be a slap in the face to communities seeking justice for Big Oil's climate lies and destruction," said Center for Climate Integrity executive director Richard Wiles in a statement on Tuesday.
"President-elect Biden pledged to support the growing number of states and localities fighting in court to hold Big Oil companies accountable for their role in causing and lying about the climate crisis," Wiles continued. "The president-elect needs to honor this commitment. There is no shortage of qualified solicitor general candidates without such deep and troubling ties to the fossil fuel industry."
He added: "We urge the President-elect to name a solicitor general who will fight for people, not polluters."
Jesse Bragg, the media director at the Boston-based anti-corruption group Corporate Accountability, told HuffPost that "experience in the energy industry is not a prerequisite for solicitor general, and there are plenty of people who have extensive careers that don't include defending oil companies."
Jeff Hauser, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research's Revolving Door Project, said that "Frederick is selling to Shell the fact that he is a progressive, and there ought to be consequences for his progressive bona fides when he does that."
"There's no lack for public interest and public service-experienced litigators," Hauser added. "We don't need to rotate between Republican Big Law and Democratic Big Law."