WASHINGTON - A Democratic senator said Thursday he feared
that confirmation of attorney William G. Myers III to a lifetime
seat on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would put "the
fox in charge of the hen house ... when it comes to environmental
Sen. Charles Schumer (D N.Y.) was one of six Democrats who
grilled Myers, who has spent much of his career as a lawyer
and lobbyist for mining and grazing interests, at the nominee's
first hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee here.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D Vt.), said he was concerned that Myers
would be "an anti environmental activist on the bench."
All the Democratic senators at the hearing including Richard
Durbin of Illinois, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Dianne Feinstein
of California and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts said they
were troubled by actions Myers had taken and statements he
had made about environmental litigation and regulations.
Schumer noted this comment by Myers in an article: "Environmentalists
are mountain biking to the courthouse as never before, bent
on stopping human activity wherever it may promote health,
safety and welfare."
Turning to Myers, Schumer said: "The cases you were
discussing include suits to halt the racially discriminatory
placement of waste treatment facilities, to protect irrigation
canals from toxic chemicals and to halt logging in protected
Those cases, Schumer declared, "hardly seem to be examples
of wild eyed litigation run amok, and your comment is hardly
reflective of the moderation and temperament we look for from
Sen. John Kerry (D Mass.), the front runner for the Democratic
presidential nomination, issued a statement calling on President
Bush to withdraw the nomination of Myers, who served as the
Interior Department's chief attorney during the first two
years of the administration.
"Myers has devoted his career," both in private
practice and as a government lawyer, "to favoring corporate
special interests seeking to exploit public lands and sacred
sites over the interests of ordinary Americans who want to
preserve and protect our national heritage and great wild
places," Kerry said.
White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said, "The president
stands behind his nominee. Bill Myers is a highly respected
attorney and has extensive experience in natural resources,
public lands and environmental law. His nomination has widespread
support across the ideological and political spectrum."
Myers, of Boise, Idaho, was defended at the hearing by committee
Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch (R Utah), who said the nominee "has
an exemplary record that includes service as a successful,
committed advocate and public servant." Other Republican
committee members, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Larry Craig
of Idaho, supported Myers, as did his other home state senator,
Michael Crapo, also a Republican.
All suggested that the criticisms of Myers were unfair. Crapo
said Myers was being attacked by "certain special interests,"
an apparent reference to nearly 100 environmental, tribal,
civil rights, labor and women's organizations who are formally
opposing the nominee's bid to become a judge.
Hatch said that "confirming mainstream nominees like
Bill Myers will be another step toward restoring some measure
of balance to the 9th Circuit," describing the court
as "the most notoriously liberal federal court in the
United States. This is the court that gave us the infamous
Pledge of Allegiance case," which held that requiring
schoolchildren to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional
because the pledge contains the phrase "under God."
Hatch emphasized that 17 of the court's 26 active judges
were appointed by Democratic presidents, and nine by Republican
Myers, 48, parried repeated questions about his past statements
that clearly troubled the Democrats.
Leahy asked Myers to explain a statement he made in 1996
that compared federal management of public lands with "the
tyrannical actions of King George in levying taxes" on
When Leahy pressed Myers, a thin, soft spoken man, to cite
a specific law or regulation, Myers said that when he wrote
the article some of his clients in the livestock industry
felt regulations were making it difficult for them to use
"That doesn't answer the question," Leahy said.
"You can't just say" something general, Leahy said.
"You wouldn't accept that in court ....Tell us which
statutes are so harmful. Words have meaning Mr. Myers."
Feinstein said she was disturbed by an article Myers wrote
in 1996 that described the 1995 California Desert Protection
Act as an "example of legislative hubris."
Feinstein said the law had created two national parks, carved
out 7.7 million acres of federally protected wilderness areas
in eastern and southern California, provided habitat for 760
wildlife species and tourism for 2.5 million people, while
generating $237 million in sales and more than $21 million
in tax revenues and creating new jobs.
Myers conceded that the statement "probably had been
a poor choice of words." He said he had sometimes made
"bombastic" remarks that did not sound good in hindsight.
He said ranchers he represented had told him that the law
had had adverse consequences on their water supply. Feinstein
said she had taken mitigating steps on behalf of the ranchers,
and said she still could not understand how Myers had made
Then she asked Myers if he had ever visited the California
desert. When he replied "no," she responded: "You
should sometime. It's beautiful."