Senate Renews Battle Over Bush Judicial Nominees

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 2, 2005 (ENS) - The Senate resumed a bitter fight Tuesday over the Bush administration's recycled judicial nominees with a confirmation hearing on former Interior Solicitor William G. Myers III, whose nomination to serve on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals was blocked last year by Senate Democrats.

The hearing offered little evidence that either Republicans or Democrats have changed their opinion of Myers - or have much appetite for compromise on a deep partisan dispute that both parties contend has major implications for the nation's future.

The controversy surrounding Myers' nomination centers on his environmental record - he has spent much of his legal career working for cattle and mining interests.

Myers

Former Interior Solicitor General and current federal appellate court nominee William G. Myers III. (Photo courtesy Bush administration)
Myers served as the Interior Department's top lawyer from 2001 through May 2003 and faced criticism over many decisions, including a move that approved a gold mine on California land considered sacred by Native Americans.

Vermont Democrat Patrick Leahy called Myers the most "most anti-environmental judicial nominee sent to the Senate during my 30 years here."

"I sense a lot of concern among both Republicans and Democrats to try and avoid the controversy if we can, but no one wants to back down and no one wants to lose face," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, said President George W. Bush's decision to renominate Myers and six other nominees previously blocked by the Senate is "a thumb in the eye of bipartisanship."

Bush is taking a "my way or the highway approach," said Schumer, and has renominated "radical and regressive nominees so far out of the mainstream [they] can't see the shoreline."

Schumer

New York Senator Charles Schumer, a Democrat (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Schumer blasted the President for saying his reelection gave him a mandate to renominate previously rejected nominees.

"Fifty-one percent in an election is not a mandate and not a prerogative for one party rule," Schumer said.

Specter criticized the use of filibusters to block judicial nominees. This obstructionist tactic uses prolonged speechmaking for the purpose of delaying legislative action. But Specter stopped short of endorsing the "nuclear option," a controversial measure favored by some Republicans to kill the use of the filibuster.

"There are precedents for that approach but it is one to be taken with great reluctance if at all," said Specter, who reminded colleagues that the rights of the minority are "rockbed Americana."

Democrats note that the Senate has only rejected 10 of the Bush administration's 214 judicial nominees. Seven appellate court nominees were blocked, three were withdrawn by the White House.

"The repeated accusations of obstruction are ludicrous," said Schumer, who described nominee Myers as an anti-environmental ideologue unfit for a lifetime appointment on a federal appellate court.

Both sides acknowledge the committee is expected to endorse Myers - last year it voted 10-9 along party lines to approve his nomination - but confirmation by the full Senate is another matter.

Although confirmation of judicial nominees requires a simple majority, 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster and force a vote.

Specter

Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter believes the votes are within reach to confirm Myers. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
Specter opted to consider Myers first because he believes some Democrats can be convinced to join virtually all the Senate's 55 Republicans and support the 49 year old Idaho lawyer.

Last August supporters of the nomination mustered 53 votes - only two Democrats crossed party lines to support a vote on Myers.

"I count 58 votes for cloture," Specter told colleagues, "so we are within hailing distance." Cloture is a procedure by which debate is ended and an immediate vote is taken.

Critics say Myers' record in the private sector and the Interior Department show he is too eager to represent the interests of ranchers and miners above all else.

Schumer told the nominee his record "screams passionate activist [and] does not so much as whisper impartial judge."

Myers sought to dispel those concerns and defended his record working for ranching and mining interests.

As an attorney, one is bound "zealously represent their clients," Myers said. "That is the very essence of advocacy - that is of course not the role of a judge."

"If I were to be confirmed I would be advocate for the law," Myers told the committee.

Democrats remained unconvinced.

"Why should we believe these statements instead of a career of statements that conflict with them?" Schumer said.

Schumer noted that Myers has compared the management of public lands in the United States to King George's "tyrannical" rule over the American colonies and expressed the opinion that "environmental legislation harms the very environment it purports to protect."

Myers responded that the positions he advanced were based on the opinions of the cattle industry he was representing at the time and did not fully reflect his own views.

"I believe that sometimes environmental legislation has a blunt sword approach to some problems," Myers said. "I was making a generalized point there in a generalized writing not a legal writing."

"What you are saying now does not address what you said then," Schumer responded.

Myers urged critics to look beyond their concerns with some of his legal articles and his tenure at Interior.

"A good indication of a person is what they do in their free time and I spend a lot of my private time working for the environment. That is a true mark of an individual," said Myers.

The Idaho lawyer said he has volunteered his time to help local conservation efforts as well as with the projects overseen by the Park Service and the Forest Service as local conservation efforts.

"On my own time ... I help clean up the environment others have trashed," Myers said.

Democrats noted that more than 180 conservation groups, Native American tribes, and other organizations actively oppose his nomination to the 9th Circuit, which plays a major role in deciding controversial environmental issues.

The court hears cases from Alaska and the American West, where environmental law concerning 485 million acres of public lands is considered.

One of those groups is the Society of American Law Teachers, the largest membership organization of law professors in the United States. More than 60 law professors and lawyers within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit wrote to Senate leaders in February 2004 and again in July, opposing Myers' nomination because he "lacks the requisite qualifications and experience and has demonstrated hostility to environmental protections, workers' safety concerns, and the rights of Native Americans and other civil rights claimants."

"When he served as Solicitor of the Interior Department in this Administration, he used his position to benefit industry and undermine environmental protections," the law professors wrote.

Myers' biography is found at: http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/myersbio.htm