The Supreme Court's chief justice has at least slowed the damage done by a recent Court decision related to climate change. And he has emphasized the importance of filling the vacant seat with the right choice.
Justice John Roberts refused to block an EPA regulation limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants without referring it to the entire court. Justice Roberts may not want the Court buried in such requests following a 5-to-4 decision three weeks ago blocking the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan reducing such emissions.
That decision temporarily blocking the Clean Power Plan was highly unusual in that a federal appeals court in Washington D.C. had set up an expedited briefing schedule and won't hear arguments for several months. There was no need for hasty action, but the court majority, including the late Antonin Scalia, jumped in with a decision that can be easily interpreted as political.
Justice Roberts may have wanted to avoid a blizzard of appeals based on the Court decision or maybe he was second-guessing his vote. Either way, he did the right thing. The damage is not undone, and no Court decision will preserve the coal industry, which is all but finished. But this ill-considered decision offers a reminder that the next justice — who should be nominated by President Obama — must acknowledge the importance of legal precedent and the responsibilities of the executive branch.