Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel Community Rights Counsel

About CRC

Legal Resources

Community Rights Report Newsletter

Support Us


Redefining Federalism

Warming Law Blog

Community Rights Counsel
1301 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 502
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-296-6889
Fax: 202-296-6895

CRC In The News

Environmentalists say Hatch trying to load courts

USA Today
Monday, September 9, 2002
Jim Drinkard

WASHINGTON - A candidate for a federal judgeship being pushed by Sen. Orrin Hatch is worrying environmentalists, who say the Utah Republican is packing two little-known courts with his aides.

Hatch is promoting a member of his Judiciary Committee staff, Lawrence Block, for the Court of Federal Claims, which handles claims for damages against the U.S. government. Many of its cases involve government "takings" of private property, an issue Block has worked on for eight years.

If confirmed, Block would be the fourth alumnus of Hatch's Senate staff to join that court or the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which handles appeals from the claims court. There are 24 judges on those two courts.

Hatch spokeswoman Margarita Tapia says the charge that he is trying to influence the court's rulings through nominations is "extremely offensive" and politically motivated, with "no basis in reality."

The Constitution's Fifth Amendment says private property may not be taken for public use "without just compensation." Land taken for a highway is an example. Some conservatives say owners also should be paid when land development is constrained by such things as wetlands or endangered species. That could raise the cost of environmental regulation and efforts to control sprawl.

Hatch has been at the forefront of the push to broaden property rights. He proposed legislation in the mid-1990s that would have expanded the concept of takings to include environmental regulations. Block was his chief aide in that effort. Environmentalists say when the legislative push stalled, Hatch focused on the courts.

It is an unprecedented concentration of judges from a single source, and evidence of a conservative campaign "to use the claims court to advance an extreme interpretation of the Constitution," says Doug Kendall, director of the Community Rights Counsel, an environmental law group.

The fight over Block is part of a long-standing battle over the ideology of judges who have lifetime appointments. President Bush's slate of nominees is dominated by conservatives. That has raised the suspicions of Senate Democrats, whose majority gives them power over confirmations. But it appears unlikely that Block will be rejected like two other Bush nominees.

At his confirmation hearing last month, Block said that as a judge he would leave behind positions on takings he promoted as Hatch's aide. Hatch said Block will "follow the law regardless of his personal views." But opponents are wary.

Sheldon Goldman, a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says Hatch is practicing patronage politics. "This is an opportunity to try to exert influence, and Hatch has made the most of it," Goldman says. "It is hard to quarrel with that."

For a related article published in The Salt Lake Tribune on September 14, 2002, click here.

Back to CRC Home

If you have questions or comments about this website or
Community Rights Counsel email us!

2005 Community Rights Counsel. All rights reserved.