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Senate Panel Clears Myers, Floor Fight To Focus On Environment

InsideEPA.com
April 8, 2004


The Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Bush's controversial nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit William Myers on a party-line vote, setting the stage for a floor showdown in a controversy that centers around the nominee's environmental record, marking the first time the environment has played a prominent role in blocking a nominee, sources say.

At an April 1 meeting, the committee voted 10-9 to send Myers' confirmation to the full Senate. Environmentalists say the unanimous opposition to Myers by Democrats on the panel indicates the party will likely seek to filibuster a floor vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, as it has for other controversial judicial nominees.

"When there has been a vote by every single Democrat [on the committee] against a judicial nominee, it has been blocked on the floor," said Glenn Sugameli of the group Earthjustice, during a March 31 conference call with reporters. A spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) said leadership will meet with the Democratic caucus this week to talk about a possible filibuster. Daschle has warned Bush that he will see no progress on confirming appeals court nominees unless he puts forward less controversial choices.

Myers' record includes efforts to roll back public lands protections on behalf of the energy industry, according to Judiciary Committee ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who submitted a six-page opening statement calling Myers an "anti-environmental activist." Myers previously served as solicitor general for the Department of Interior under the Bush administration, and before that he worked as a lawyer on behalf of the livestock and mining industries.

"The Bush administration has already proposed more rollbacks to our environmental safeguards, aiming to benefit industry at the expense of the public's interest in clean air and water, our public lands, and some of our most fragile wildlife populations," Leahy said in his statement. "While today we have a federal judiciary which has in many instances prevented this administration's attempts to roll back important environmental laws and protections, in the future we may not be so fortunate." Relevant documents are available on InsideEPA.com.

Doug Kendall of the Community Rights Council said during the conference call that if Democrats are successful in blocking the Myers nomination, it would be "historic" and would mark the first time a judicial nominee was held up due to his anti-environment record. Kendall noted that many controversial nominations center around social policies like abortion, but he suggested that environmental protection is a less-divisive wedge issue and enjoys broad public support.

Kendall also predicted that a fight over Myers could become a referendum on the Bush administration's environmental policies as the November election approaches. "If the Myers fight convinces the public that judges favor corporations over the public," he said, then this will become "a very large problem for the president."

Forty-one House lawmakers from 9th Circuit states also sent a March 31 letter to Leahy and Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) urging them to reject Myers. This letter is an unusual move given that the House plays no role in confirming judges.

"Specifically, we believe that Mr. Myers' relative lack of judicial experience, combined with his marked hostility toward the vital role the federal government plays in safeguarding our environment - especially in California and the West -- do not reflect the qualifications and values that a federal court judge should embody," the letter says.

The Bush administration has accused Senate Democrats of stonewalling the judicial process by holding up several contentious nominees already. The White House says all of these nominees are highly qualified, and President Bush has appointed two during congressional recesses.

In the case of Myers, Democrats charge that he holds extreme environmental positions that broadly favor private property rights over the protection of endangered species and wetlands. However, Myers argued in written comments to the committee that he will uphold legal precedent regardless of his personal views.

 

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