The letter was delivered ahead of Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearing, which is scheduled to begin next Monday, July 13.
"Judge Sotomayor's record evinces no clear bias in favor of or against environmental claims," the groups wrote in the letter. "Instead, it reflects intellectual rigor, meticulous preparation, and fairness."
"Her record demonstrates a consistently balanced and thoughtful review of complex legal issues. She has interpreted and applied the laws as Congress intended and safeguarded constitutional rights," the groups wrote.
"Our support for President Obama's nomination of Judge Sotomayor continues," said Trip Van Noppen, president of the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice. "We are pleased that so many environmental groups agree."
Judge Sonia Sotomayor (Photo courtesy The White House)
"Judge Sotomayor is a fair-minded and experienced jurist whose exceptional legal knowledge and impeccable record will benefit the Supreme Court and the nation. Appointing unbiased, non-activist justices to the Supreme Court will help ensure that the Court's decisions will faithfully implement our nation's environmental laws," Van Noppen said.
The letter was signed by some of the largest groups in the United States, including the League of Conservation Voters, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, the National Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation and The Wilderness Society. In total, they represent millions of members.
Despite having spent over a decade on the federal bench as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Sotomayor has participated in relatively few environmental cases.
In her most significant environmental case she wrote a careful 80-page opinion upholding critical Clean Water Act safeguards.
"She wrote a notable Clean Water Act decision, methodically analyzing and resolving various conservation, state, and industry challenges to a regulation designed to protect fish from being killed in the cooling water intake structures at large power plants," states the letter of support.
"While a divided Supreme Court reversed one of the more than a dozen rulings in the case, her decision reflects well-researched, thorough, and thoughtful legal analysis that probes the statute, its context, legislative history, and judicial precedent to discern and remain true to congressional intent," the groups wrote.
The Second Circuit has yet to issue a decision in a public nuisance case brought against utilities for harm caused by power plant greenhouse gas emissions, but observers praised Judge Sotomayor's preparation and deep engagement in the complex issues at oral argument, the letter states.
Beyond the decisions she has written, Judge Sotomayor joined a decision upholding a Vermont law requiring that labels inform consumers that certain products contain mercury and must be disposed of as hazardous waste, although she also joined a Clean Air Act decision that went against environmental litigants.
"Judge Sotomayor brings to the bench the most federal judicial experience in 100 years," said Glenn Sugameli, senior policy counsel at Earthjustice and head of Judging the Environment, an Earthjustice judicial nominations program.
"As recent, closely divided decisions demonstrate, the Supreme Court is playing a crucial role in environmental protections. We anticipate that Judge Sotomayor will bring to the court a fundamental perspective of fairness, careful attention to, and understanding of, environmental and related statutes, and thoughtful review of complex legal issues," Sugameli said.
Within the last few years, Supreme Court decisions on environmental issues have influenced environmental protections.
In its 2006 decision in the case of Rapanos v. United States, the Supreme Court placed water quality protections for some intermittent streams and isolated wetlands in doubt, leading to ambiguous implementation policies by federal agencies.
In its 2007 decision in the case of Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is a pollutant, clearing the way for regulation of the gas by federal agencies.
In its 2009 decision Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al., the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act permits a mining company to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of a toxic wastewater slurry into an Alaskan lake, killing its fish and aquatic life.
"The 6-3 ruling has dire implications for other waterways across the country and reverses a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the mining company's permit in clear violation of the Clean Water Act," Earthjustice says.
Sotomayor's nomination has been opposed by conservatives, many Republicans and gun rights activists, including the heads of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Second Amendment Foundation.
"It is extremely important that a Supreme Court justice understand and appreciate the origin and meaning of the Second Amendment, a constitutional guarantee permanently enshrined in the Bill of Rights," said a letter from the group, which was hand-delivered Tuesday to every member of the U.S. Senate. "Judge Sotomayor's record on the Second Amendment causes us grave concern about her treatment of this enumerated Constitutional right."
"The Supreme Court is almost certain to decide next year whether the Second Amendment applies to states and local governments, as it does to the federal government," they wrote.
"While on the Second Circuit, Judge Sotomayor revealed her views on the right to keep and bear arms in Maloney v. Cuomo ... holding that the Second Amendment is not a fundamental right, that it does not apply to the states, and that if an object is 'designed primarily as a weapon' that is a sufficient basis for total prohibition even within the home."
"The Second Amendment survives today by a single vote in the Supreme Court," the gun rights letter notes. "Judge Sotomayor has already revealed her views on the right to keep and bear arms and we believe they are contrary to the intent and purposes of the Second Amendment and Bill of Rights."
Another fount of opposition to Sotomayor's nomination comes from the pro-life movement. Pro-life voters are calling on pro-life senators to filibuster the Sotomayor nomination.
But Sotomayor's nomination received support from another quarter today in the form of a video released by the Democratic National Committee that showcases grassroots enthusiasm for her.
The DNC received thousands of photo submissions through its Action Center and many are featured on the 42 second video.
"Folks across the country are enthusiastically behind the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to be the next Supreme Court justice," said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine, who also serves as governor of Virginia.
"People understand that Judge Sotomayor is exceptionally qualified," said Kaine. "She would bring more judicial experience to the high court than anyone confirmed in the last 70 years. Her experience in the American judicial system, coupled with her inspiring life story and fierce intellect, make her uniquely qualified to serve on the nation's highest court."
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.