Senate Democrats and environmentalists say last week's failure
of a procedural vote on a controversial Bush judicial nominee
serves as a referendum on the Bush administration's allegedly
dismal environmental record.
Republicans failed to win 60 votes to end debate and move
forward with a vote on the nomination of William G. Myers
III to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. This
brings to 10 the number of nominees Democrats are blocking.
But the complaints about Myers have focused squarely on his
environmental record, since he is a former top Department
of Interior (DOI) attorney who critics say used his position
to help former industry clients.
Also last week, the Senate blocked the nomination of a Michigan
judge, David W. McKeague, who environmental groups oppose
due to his record on natural resource cases.
The vote on Myers is the first in which the long-standing
controversy over President Bush's appellate nominees has centered
over his record on the environment, rather than other ideological
issues. However, environmentalists have opposed some of the
other nine blocked nominees based on their records on issues
such as access to the courts and private property rights.
"There are a number of critical issues at stake in judicial
nominations and environment is at the top of the list"
concerning Myers, Doug Kendall of the Community Rights Council
said in a July 20 statement.
The Senate voted 53-44 on July 20 in a cloture motion that
required 60 votes to end debate and allow the nomination to
go forward. The vote was largely along party lines. All Senate
Republicans and two Democrats, Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Ben
Nelson (D-NE), voted for cloture.
Activists opposing Myers believe the cloture motion may have
been one of the key environmental votes of the year, since
Congress is unlikely to consider major bills on issues such
as air pollution or climate change. The League of Conservation
Voters (LCV) may include the vote in its annual scorecard,
which ranks lawmakers on their environmental records. An LCV
source says the group has made no decision on the scorecard,
but it is a possibility because Myers has "a long record
of anti-environmental action."
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), ranking member on the Judiciary
Committee, said in a floor statement the day of the vote that
the Myers nomination was part of a larger attempt by the White
House to undermine environmental laws -- and he argued that
federal courts were a crucial backstop for upholding key protections.
"If you watch what the Bush administration does, instead
of just listening to what it says, there is much evidence
of this administration's outright contempt for high environmental
standards," Leahy said. "This nomination, in itself,
says something about that. I hope that the Senate's vote today
will say something about the higher priority that the Senate
makes of environmental quality." Leahy's statement
is available on InsideEPA.com.
Activists say Myers has favored industry and private property
rights at the expense of environmental concerns, and charge
that he wants to restrict the access of environmental groups
to courts (Clean Air Report, March 25, p25). Myers
has worked as a lawyer representing ranching and mining interests,
and most recently was DOI's top lawyer.
Conservative groups counter that Democrats are using the nomination
as a political tool to oppose environmental policies they
disagree with. "They're trying to besmirch this good
man's reputation because they want to score a political point
about the president's environmental agenda. That's dirty politics,"
one source says.
The Senate also voted July 22 to block three Michigan nominees
to the 6th Circuit appeals court: McKeague, Henry W. Saad,
and Richard A. Griffin.
Leahy delivered a second speech July 20 highlighting McKeague's
position in several environmental cases. These include a series
of decisions that interpreted the National Environmental Policy
Act to allow more logging on public lands; and another ruling
that blocked a citizen from suing under the Resource Conservation
& Recovery Act.
The Bush administration is now seeking to make the Democrats'
blockage of nominees an issue in this year's presidential
election campaign. Supporters of the president argue Democrats
are engaged in obstruction to block qualified nominees only
to score political points.
The conservative source says the nomination fight may sway
moderate voters concerned about legal gridlock, in an election
that has polarized voters on major domestic and international
issues. "The war [in Iraq] is probably a tie with most
voters," the source says. "The economy is probably
a tie. So what's left when you're trying to sway blue-collar
swing voters?" The source adds, "Judicial nominees
is a populist issue."
Republicans are expected to seek second cloture votes on many
of the nominees after Congress returns from its summer recess,
this source says.
Recent press reports have also suggested that Republicans
may attempt what is popularly known as the "nuclear option"
by changing Senate procedures to require a 51-vote simple
majority on judicial nominees. But sources stay the jury is
still out on whether Republicans will consider this controversial
move, with the fear that it could come back to haunt them
if they lose their majority in Congress. Democrats say they
would seek to block this, and would block every other issue
for the rest of the year should Republicans go forward, essentially
shutting down the legislature.
Source: Clean Air Report via InsideEPA.com
Date: July 29, 2004
Issue: Vol. 15, No. 16
© Inside Washington Publishers