Senators Should Consider Environmental Impacts of Judicial Nominations
For the first time ever, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) has included in its National Environmental Scorecard a vote on a nominee to the federal courts. William H. Pryor was nominated by President Bush in April 2003 to fill a lifetime seat on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears appeals of federal environmental cases in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. On July 31, 2003, Pryor's supporters fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to end debate on Pryor's nomination and force a vote on the Senate floor. However, Mr. Pryor was recently given a recess appointment to that same seat, which will expire at the end of the next Senate session.
According to LCV:
Pryor has been criticized by conservationists for his exceptionally aggressive attacks on core national environmental safeguards. He was alone among 50 state attorneys general in challenging the constitutionality of significant portions of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. In testimony before Congress, he said that the EPA had "invaded the province of the states" by using its Clean Air Act authority to reduce pollution from coal-burning power plants and oil refineries (even though the pollution harms downwind states). He has also demonstrated hostility to claims of environmental injustice, having stated unequivocally that, "environmental justice claims should fail generally."
LCV explained its decision to include the vote on Mr. Pryor's judicial nomination in its Scorecard by pointing out that the "vote represents a growing recognition by ... the environmental community that judges, appointed for life and given the power to validate -- or invalidate -- environmental laws and regulations, play a key role in environmental policy." LCV cited recent court rulings invalidating the Bush administration's rollbacks of important Clean Air Act safeguards, and of regulations banning snowmobile use in our national parks, as examples of the power of the judiciary to maintain key environmental protections.
"As the 2003 LCV Scorecard points out, the judges who serve on the nation's federal appeals courts can have a profound impact on our environmental protections," said Betsy Loyless, LCV vice president for policy. "Every senator should keep this in mind when considering whether to confirm or reject a particular judicial nominee."
Upcoming votes on William G. Myers, who has been nominated to fill a lifetime seat on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, will offer the Senate an important opportunity to consider the environmental impacts of a judicial nomination. Mr. Myers is a former beef- and mining-industry lobbyist who recently resigned as the Interior Department's top lawyer. Like William Pryor, Mr. Myers has been a fierce opponent of federal environmental protections, and has made public statements that appear designed to antagonize environmentalists. Unlike Mr. Pryor, however, Mr. Myers' record has focused almost exclusively on environmental and land-use issues.
The Ninth Circuit hears federal environmental appeals in nine western states, including a significant number of environmental cases that affect the entire nation. Because the Supreme Court reviews only a fraction of the decisions made at the appeals court level, decisions from the Ninth Circuit have the potential to set law and influence policy across the country.
LCV is one of many organizations that has come out in formal opposition to Myers' nomination, joining a record number of national, regional and local environmental groups -- including the National Wildlife Federation, which has never before opposed a judicial nominee.
"William Myers has an extreme record on the environment, the rights of Indian tribes, and civil rights. In fact, his nomination threatens nearly every one of our fundamental protections under the law," said Glenn Sugameli, who heads the Judging the Environment project at Earthjustice. "For the sake of the environment and the rights of ordinary Americans, the nomination of William Myers should be rejected."