WASHINGTON - For much of his professional career, William
G. Myers III has been a lawyer and lobbyist for mining, grazing
and cattle interests and a severe critic of environmentalists.
Now, Myers, 48, has been nominated by President Bush to the
San Francisco based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which
reviews federal court decisions from nine western states,
including California, and considers more significant environmental
cases than any other federal appeals court.
Myers, an attorney in Boise, Idaho, faces a tough confirmation
battle as nearly 100 environmental, tribal, civil rights,
labor and women's organizations have mounted a major campaign
to defeat him in the Senate. Myers' first hearing will be
today in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary has called
Myers "an ideologue who would use his position on the
court to promote his personal agenda of attacking safeguards
for tribal rights and the environment in order to favor"
the industries he has represented.
Jackie Johnson, spokeswoman for the National Congress of
American Indians, which represents about 250 tribes, said
this is the first time the organization has formally opposed
a judicial nominee during the Bush administration. Johnson
criticized Myers' role as the Interior Department's chief
lawyer during the first two years of the Bush administration.
"Myers was the architect of a rollback of protections
for sacred native sites on public lands that are central to
the free exercise of religion for many Native American people,"
Myers did not return a call seeking comment. Justice Department
spokesman John Nowacki offered praise of the nominee. "Bill
Myers is a qualified, experienced attorney who would be an
excellent addition to the 9th Circuit," Nowacki said.
"The left," Nowacki said, "has shown time
and again that it will go all out to block as many of this
president's nominees as it can and that it is willing to level
any accusation, no matter how baseless, to justify its obstruction
President Bush and his aides have frequently attacked Democrats
for their opposition to some of the president's most controversial
judicial nominees including use of the filibuster to block
six nominees. The Senate has confirmed 171 of Bush's nominees.
Opposition to Myers stems from actions he took as a private
attorney in the 1990s and as the Interior Department's top
lawyer from 2001 to 2003. From 1993 1997, Myers was executive
director of the Public Lands Council, a trade group advancing
the interests of ranchers who graze cattle and sheep on public
lands, and served as director of federal lands for the National
Cattlemen's Beef Assn. From 1997 to 2001, as an attorney at
Holland & Hart in Boise, he represented grazing and mining
interests and was corporate counsel to the Cattlemen Advocating
Through Litigation Fund, the litigation wing of the Public
Myers, a Virginia native who studied law at the University
of Denver and worked as an aide to former Sen. Alan K. Simpson
(R Wyoming) from 1985 to 1989 and later in the Justice and
Energy departments, also has supporters. Simpson, Dick Thornburgh
and William P. Barr, attorneys general during the Ronald Reagan
and George H.W. Bush administrations, and Idaho's former Democratic
Gov. Cecil D. Andrus sent letters to Judiciary Committee Chairman
Orrin Hatch (R Utah), praising Myers.
"I have observed Bill closely for nearly 20 years,"
Simpson wrote. "I can wholeheartedly vouch for his legal
competence and his integrity." Barr praised Myers as
"fair minded, careful and balanced." Andrus said
that, "while Mr. Myers as been an effective advocate
in the past for specific public policy positions with which
I may have personally disagreed, he also possesses the ability
to act fairly on matters of law that will come before him
Idaho's senior senator, Larry E. Craig, a Republican member
of the Judiciary Committee, is playing a major role in the
confirmation effort, saying that Myers would "bring a
welcome breath of fresh air and common sense that has been
lacking in the 9th Circuit."
The court has often angered Republicans with its rulings,
particularly decisions that people in the Northwest consider
insufficiently sensitive to the needs of industry. Rep. Michael
K. Simpson (R Idaho) recently introduced a bill that would
split the 9th Circuit into two courts.
In contrast to the brief, general letters of support, several
organizations, including People for the American Way, a liberal
advocacy group, and two environmental law organizations Community
Rights Counsel and Earthjustice have issued detailed reports
criticizing Myers' actions and views.
Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice, and David
Bookbinder, a staff attorney for the Sierra Club, said that,
"on environmental issues, he has the clearest and worst
record," and that this was particularly worrisome in
a circuit that has 485 million acres of public lands.
"He is one of the worst nominees we have seen from this
administration," said Nan Aron, President of the Alliance
for Justice, whose organization has played a key role in opposing
several Bush nominees.
While acknowledging that the American Bar Assn.'s judicial
screening committee had given Myers a "qualified"
rating, Aron emphasized that Myers had not garnered even one
"well qualified" rating from the 15 members of the
committee and that more than a third of its members had judged
him "not qualified."
Last year, critics said, Myers reversed a legal opinion rendered
by his predecessor in the Interior Department, paving the
way for a Canadian company to build a 1,600 acre open pit
gold mine in Imperial County, Calif., that an independent
federal agency said would be so damaging that "the Quechan
tribe's ability to practice their sacred traditions as a living
part of their community life would be lost."
During the Clinton administration, Interior Secretary Bruce
Babbitt refused to approve the Glamis mine project, relying
on his chief lawyer John Leshy, who said the project had to
be stopped to prevent "unnecessary or undue degradation
of public lands."
"In order to reverse his predecessor's opinion, Myers
resorted to interpreting the word "or" in a statute
to mean its exact opposite "and" said Glenn Sugameli,
an attorney for Earthjustice. Late last year, U.S. District
Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. in Washington, D.C., ruled that Myers
had violated three separate rules of statutory interpretation.
And, the judge said, Myers had "misconstrued the clear
mandate" of the Federal Lands Policy Management Act,
which "by its plain terms, vests the secretary of the
Interior with the authority and indeed the obligation to disapprove"
mines that "would unduly harm or degrade the public land."
Both of California's senators have opposed the project, noting
that it would produce only one ounce of gold for every 280
tons of rock disturbed, according to the company's own studies.
Critics also say that, while Myers was at the Interior Department,
he attempted to reverse grazing regulations established by
Babbitt that were upheld 9 to 0 by the U.S. Supreme Court
a case in which Myers was on the losing side.
Myers' opponents say many of his public statements show hostility
toward environmental protections. For example, they point
to a 2002 speech he made to the National Cattlemen's Assn.,
while serving as the Interior Department's solicitor. In it,
he said: "The biggest disaster now facing ranchers is
not nature ... but a flood of regulations designed to turn
the West into little more than a theme park."
In a 1996 article, Myers compared federal management of public
lands with "the tyrannical actions of King George in
levying taxes" on American colonists.
In another article a year earlier, he blasted the 1994 California
Desert Protection Act, which created two national parks and
carved out millions of acres of federally protected wilderness
areas in Southern and eastern California, as "an example
of legislative hubris."