Myers Vote Sets Up Senate Battle Over Bush Judicial Nominees

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, March 18, 2005 (ENS) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved the nomination of former Interior Solicitor William Myers for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, setting the stage for a major confrontation over the rules of the Senate.

Republicans have threatened to change Senate rules in order to prevent Democrats from filibustering judicial nominees – a tactic the minority party has used to effectively block Myers and nine other controversial nominees.

Myers

William Myers has a history as a lobbyist for mining and grazing interests that the Democrats say would prevent him from making unbiased rulings on environmental law. (Photo courtesy DOI)
Although confirmation of judicial nominees requires a simple majority, 60 votes are needed to break a filibuster and force a vote.

Democrats say the claims that they are obstructing nominees are unfair – only 10 of the administration’s 214 judicial nominees have been blocked.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the potential rule change would make the Senate “merely a rubber stamp” for the White House.

“It would mean that one man, sitting in the White House, has the practical ability to personally hand out lifetime jobs to judges whose rulings can last forever,” said the Nevada Democrat. ““That is not how America works.”

Democrats say if Republicans change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster – a move called the “nuclear option” - they will respond by using procedural tactics to shut down the Senate.

Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist said that response “would be irresponsible and partisan” and called on Democrats to compromise.

In a letter sent Thursday to Reid, the Tennessee Republican did not remove the threat but said he “undertake such a course only if it were clear to me that reasonable alternatives were not possible.”

Frist

Senator William Frist, M.D. is the Senate Majority Leader (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
“I agree that the Senate must not be a rubber stamp, but l firmly disagree that the filibuster is the appropriate way to vindicate the Senate’s check on the appointments process,” Frist said.

The Majority Leader suggested he would call on the Senate to limit debate with the certainty that a confirmation vote would follow – a tactic used in by the Democratic majority in 1979.

Frist said his proposal “will protect the Constitution, validate our duties as Senators, and restore fairness to a process gone awry.”

Although the confrontation over the “nuclear option” appears inevitable, Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said he opted to consider Myers ahead of the other recycled nominees because he hoped the showdown could be avoided.

Specter believes some Democrats can be convinced to join virtually all the Senate’s 55 Republicans and confirm the nomination of the longtime cattle and mining industry lawyer.

Last August supporters of the nomination mustered 53 votes – only two Democrats crossed party lines to support Myers.

Republicans now hold a 55 to 45 majority. At Myers’ confirmation hearing earlier this month, Specter said he could “count 58 votes for cloture, so we are within hailing distance.”

But Democrats appear determined to fight against confirming Myers, who they say is an unqualified, anti-environmental ideologue.

“This nomination is an example of how this President seeks to misuse his power of appointment to the federal bench,” said Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

Leahy said Myers “is neither qualified nor independent enough “to serve as a federal appellate court judge and called his nomination “the epitome of the anti-environmental tilt of so many of President Bush’s nominees and policies.”

Leahy

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy objects to the appointment of Myers to the Court of Appeals. (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
”Will the federal courts continue to stand as a bulwark against the administration’s assault on environmental protection? Not if people like Mr. Myers are confirmed to the federal courts,” Leahy said.

More than 180 conservation groups, Native American tribes, and other organizations actively oppose Myers’ nomination to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which plays a major role in environmental issues.

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

Republicans say the Idaho lawyer is well-qualified and would restore balance to one of the most liberal federal courts in the nation, but critics say Myers’ record in the private sector and the Interior Department show he is too keen to represent the interests of ranchers and miners above all else.

During the past two decades, Myers has lobbied for the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, the Public Lands Council and a host of mining companies.

Myers served as the Interior Department’s top lawyer from 2001 through May 2003 and faced criticism for many of his decisions, including a move that approved a gold mine on California land considered sacred by Native Americans.

“Mr. Myers’ record does not justify a life-time appointment to the Court of Appeals,” said Senator Ted Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat. “He is free to keep advocating for private interests in his law practice, but I doubt we would even confirm him now for the Department of Interior, and we certainly shouldn’t confirm him for a federal court.”