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Democrats rally to block Myers' cloture motion, 53-44

July 21, 2004
Alex Kaplun, Environment & Energy Daily reporter

Senate Democrats yesterday successfully blocked a procedural move to bring about a final vote on the nomination of former Interior Solicitor William Myers to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court, marking the first time this session a judicial nomination has been derailed chiefly on environmental grounds.

A cloture motion failed to reach the 60 votes needed to end debate and bring about a vote on the nomination, falling short by a 53-44 vote largely along party lines. Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Fla.) and Joseph Biden (D-Del.) voted with all 51 Republican senators for the cloture motion.

On the floor yesterday, Democrats insisted Myers' private-sector work on the behalf of grazing and mining interests make him unfit to sit on a court that had jurisdiction over much of the public land in the United States.

"Mr. Myers is neither qualified nor independent enough to receive confirmation for a lifetime appointment to this federal circuit court," said Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). "His nomination is the epitome of the anti-environmental tilt of so many of President Bush's nominees."

Myers left the Interior Department last year after environmentalists said he violated an ethics agreement by meeting with representatives of the grazing and mining industry, including former clients and employees of his former law firm, Holland & Hart. The agency's inspector general later said Myers did not violate any ethics laws.

Democrats also criticized Myers for statements comparing the federal government's management of public lands to "the tyrannical actions of King George" and arguing that the Clean Water Act gives no authority to federal officials to regulate wetlands.

"Nominating William Myers is like sticking a thumb in the eye of all senators who believe extremists -- right or left -- should not be on the federal bench," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Republicans countered that Democrats were blocking the Myers nomination largely because of pressure from environmental groups and that Myers' work in the private sector did not preclude him from being an impartial judge on the federal bench.

"It's clear that this cloture vote, this denial of an up-or-down vote, is not about Bill Myers," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). "It is, in fact, nothing more than a reflection of special interest group disdain for policies favored by farmers, ranchers, miners, the Bush Interior Department or anyone else who advocates balanced uses of Western lands."

Even before the vote, Republicans conceded that there was little chance the cloture vote would succeed. "[Myers] will not get a vote in this session," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho). "The votes are so locked in, so fixed, so regimented, that it just will not happen."

Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.), the presumptive Democratic ticket for president, were not present for the vote. Kerry has previously asked the White House to withdraw the Myers nomination and Edwards voted against him in committee.

Campaign observers say the vote -- which had little chance of ever succeeding -- was scheduled by the Republican leadership mainly as a tool to levy charges of obstructionism against Senate Democrats on the campaign trail.

President Bush attacked Edwards and other Senate Democrats for "playing politics" with the nomination process during a campaign stop in North Carolina on the day after Kerry chose Edwards as his running mate.

Former Rep. John Thune (R-S.D.), who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) this fall in perhaps the only race with a vulnerable Democratic incumbent, issued a press release shortly after the vote accusing Daschle of obstructionism and siding with "liberal extremists."

Meanwhile, environmentalists -- who praised the actions of the Democratic senators -- said the GOP's strategy could backfire by shining a spotlight on the environmental policies of the administration.

"There's never been a judicial nomination that has successfully been fought on environmental issues," said Jason Rylander of the Community Rights Counsel. "Winning this fight will go a long way to convincing the American people that environmental protections are at risk under this administration in the courts."

Dan Allen, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, countered that the campaign-trail debate would likely be not as much about policy as about the methods used by Democrats to block the nominations.

"Most Americans believe, that if the president -- whether he is Republican or Democrat -- nominates someone, the Senate's responsibility is to do a fair up-or-down vote and not have the obstruction that we're seeing," Allen said.

Including Myers, Democrats have blocked seven administration judicial nominees and allowed the confirmation of 198 others.

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