Supreme Court won’t throw out climate scientist’s defamation suit

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The Supreme Court decided Monday not to intervene in a defamation suit brought by prominent climate scientist Michael Mann against National Review, a conservative magazine he sued in 2012 after it criticized him, accusing him of “misconduct” and data “manipulation.”

In an unsigned order, the high court allowed the case to continue in the lower courts. National Review had asked the Supreme Court to throw out the case.

Mann sued National Review seven years ago in Washington, DC, after two of its columnists wrote about his work and the famed “Hockey Stick” curve graph that boldly illustrated the dramatic rise in average global temperatures over the past 50 years.

Responding to the court’s decision on Monday, Mann, who is a professor at Penn State University, said in a statement to CNN that he’s “pleased with this nearly unanimous decision by the Supreme Court to deny the appeal” and that he’s “looking forward to the trial.”

National Review lamented the ruling in an op-ed Monday.

“Naturally, we have no intention of abandoning this fight; not yesterday, not today, not tomorrow,” it wrote. “But we are frustrated that the nation’s highest court has elected to punt on the question, and thereby to guarantee that it will roll on without end in sight.”

A National Review post discussed an investigation by Penn State into Mann clearing him of data manipulation accusations, which found no wrongdoing. It compared the Mann investigation to the university’s investigation of child molestation charges against then-football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, saying Mann is “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except that instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data.”

While Monday’s order was unsigned, Justice Samuel Alito penned an eight-page dissent, saying the court could have heard the case.

The writers “employed pungent language, accusing Mann of, among other things, ‘misconduct,’ ‘wrongdoing,’ and the ‘manipulation’ and ‘tortur[e]’ of data,” Alito wrote.

Alito wrote in his dissent that the case brought up First Amendment concerns “that go to the very heart of the constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and freedom of the press: the protection afforded to journalists and others who use harsh language in criticizing opposing advocacy on one of the most important public issues of the day.”

The justice also wrote that a “journalist who prevails after trial in a defamation case will still have been required to shoulder all the burdens of difficult litigation and may be faced with hefty attorney’s fees. Those prospects may deter the uninhibited expression of views that would contribute to healthy public debate.”

In a column published last month, National Review editor Rich Lowry accused Mann of wanting to “bleed us of time and, most importantly, resources, in order to punish us for having the temerity to harshly criticize his work.”

Asked about Lowry’s comments on Monday, Mann told CNN that his case “is about provably false defamatory claims of fraud that they made” and that “it has absolutely nothing to do with ‘criticism’ of (his) work.”

UPDATE: This story has been updated with additional details from the lawsuit and National Review’s response to the ruling.

CNN’s Steve Vladeck, Dan Berman, and Tammy Kupperman contributed to this report.