Writing in the Guardian on Friday, Emily Johnston defended her sabotage of oil pipelines.
"We knew we were at risk for years in prison," sh wrote. "But the nation needs to wake up now to what’s coming our way if we don’t reduce emissions boldly and fast; business as usual is now genocidal."
Johnston, who is about to go on trial, says she has the legal defense of "necessity" because "normal methods of political action and protest are simply not working with anywhere near the speed that we need them to." She lauds herself for courageous resistance against capitalists who have been "lying to us for decades, and who have gotten very, very rich by doing so." The traditions of American justice, Johnston believes, are on her side. "I’m heartened by the way the law can be supple — not a thing that, once set, holds that exact shape forever (or we’d still have slavery, and I couldn’t vote or marry)," she says, "but a thing that responds -- slowly -- to our evolving understanding of what is just and true."
I call BS. Johnston's judicial and moral philosophy is antithetical to democratic civil society.
My issue is not Johnston's conception of law as a living organism. While I disagree with that viewpoint, I recognize that it follows in a long tradition of liberal jurisprudence. Instead, my concern is Johnston's conception of a unilateral right to reshape the law.
Consider, for example, what would happen to our society if everyone adopted Johnston's overbroad "necessity" argument. It would mean an anarchy of bank robbers justified by wealth redistribution, or carbon emissions-justified restrictions on how many children parents could have, or anti-abortion terrorists justifying their violence as a means to save lives. It would end the rule of law.
The vast majority of conservatives, independents and liberals accept that the law must be defined by democratic or judicial authority. Moreover, while acts of judicial disobedience; such as Rosa Parks on the bus, can sometimes be justified, the exigent concerns of justice and proportionality in such scenarios must be evident. The fulfillment of this criteria is absolutely absent from Johnston's oil shutdown.
Even aside from necessary debates over carbon emissions and climate science, if enabled, Johnston's acts would have immediate measurable negative impact on American families. As I've explained, Johnston's anti-fossil fuel agenda has already been rendered in the Clean Power Plan's increasing household energy bills. Those energy bills offer a fitting moral juxtaposition: what gives Johnston the right to force Americans to pay more simply because she believes she is right?