President-elect Joe Biden is facing mounting pressure to drop a prominent lawyer currently working for one of the world’s largest oil companies from the transition team’s list of potential nominees for solicitor general.
On Monday, more than 50 environmental and faith-based groups sent a letter to Christopher Schroeder, the Biden transition team leader for the Department of Justice, urging the incoming administration against naming David Frederick as federal government’s chief attorney responsible for arguing cases before the Supreme Court.
At issue is Frederick’s current work defending Royal Dutch Shell against state and city lawsuits demanding the Netherlands-based oil giant pay for infrastructure damages caused by climate change.
“We ask that you honor your pledge to support climate liability lawsuits by selecting a Solicitor General who has demonstrated their commitment to fighting for people, not polluters,” read the letter, a copy of which HuffPost obtained. “That means removing David Frederick, a corporate attorney who has represented Royal Dutch Shell against climate liability lawsuits, from your consideration.”
HuffPost first reported last week that Frederick, 59, was under consideration for the solicitor general post. He previously served as a Clinton-era assistant to the solicitor general from 1996 to 2001 and appeared on the Obama administration’s short list for the top job in 2008.
Neither the Biden team nor Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, the law firm where Frederick works, responded to emails requesting comment Monday morning.
States and cities started suing oil companies in 2015 after Inside Climate News and the Los Angeles Times published documents showing that oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. understood fossil fuels caused global warming decades ago yet chose to ramp up drilling and fund a misinformation campaign smearing climate science. Three years later, the Dutch-language De Correspondent published a similar exposé on Shell.
Since then, five states ― Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island ― and a number of cities ― including New York, Baltimore and Oakland, California ― have accused those companies of breaking U.S. law by hiding the reality of climate change.
During the campaign, Biden repeatedly vowed to “strategically support ongoing plaintiff-driven climate litigation against polluters” as part of his pledge to wage a whole-of-government fight to curb planet-heating emissions.
Yet Frederick is arguing in court that states and cities don’t have the legal authority to sue oil companies for climate damages. One environmental attorney compared the argument to stating that “murder isn’t illegal.”
Frederick’s defenders say the progressive victories under his belt should outweigh his work for Shell. He won decisions in favor of Tyson Foods workers after the meatpacking giant didn’t pay them their proper wages, and against tobacco companies advertising light cigarettes as safer.
“We ask that you honor your pledge to support climate liability lawsuits by selecting a Solicitor General who has demonstrated their commitment to fighting for people, not polluters.”
He also defeated oil companies in court, blocking construction of a BP liquefied natural gas facility in Delaware, returning wages the firm Parker Drilling stole from an employee, and forcing Exxon Mobil to pay millions in fines for contaminating groundwater in New Hampshire.
“David is a stellar attorney,” Michael Strauss, a California-based attorney with whom Frederick argued the Parker Drilling case, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “David would be a fantastic Solicitor General.”
But critics said it was that very record that made Frederick appealing to Shell.
“What Shell is purchasing in getting his time is a lawyer who is known to be a Democrat who had some good clients, and that provides a positive sheen to their cause,” Jeff Hauser, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s Revolving Door Project, previously told HuffPost.
The groups that signed onto the letter said Frederick’s willingness to defend Shell against “the communities they harmed” raises questions about what cases he’d champion as solicitor general.
“If David Frederick is willing to argue against accountability for Shell in court, despite the copious evidence of the company’s decades-long campaign to mislead consumers and the public about the existential threat of climate change,” they wrote, “his appointment would also have wider implications for all communities seeking redress from corporations that lied about the dangers they knew their products would cause.”