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
"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
"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
"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.