Today and tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on two more controversial judicial nominees. Both nominees have favored radically expanding the property rights of big landowners at the expense of local safeguards that protect clean water. This afternoon (3/11) the committee will hear from Victor Wolski, a self-described libertarian ideologue on the very property rights issues that he would decide if he is confirmed to the Court of Federal Claims. Mr. Wolski has spent most of his legal career with the industry-funded Pacific Legal Foundation, where he specialized in bringing property rights challenges to environmental and land use protections. On Thursday (3/12) the committee will again hear from Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, renominated to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals after being rejected last year for her record of extreme rulings, including favoring big landowner special interests over clean water, public health, and ordinary citizens.
“This week we see more evidence of pressure to confirm judges with extreme records on clean water and other mainstream issues,” said Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice. “We urge the Senate to confirm only those nominees who have a fair and balanced approach to judging and will respect the nation’s laws.”
Earthjustice and twelve other national environmental groups have expressed serious concerns about Mr. Wolski’s nomination to the Court of Federal Claims, which decides whether companies and developers must be paid to comply with federal safety, health, and environmental safeguards. (See Judging The Environment.) He told the National Journal in 1999 that “every single job I’ve taken since college has been ideologically oriented, trying to further my principles,” which he describes as a “libertarian” view on government power and “property rights.” As a Pacific Legal Foundation lawyer, he argued unsuccessfully that a much-heralded regional plan established to save Lake Tahoe from pollution constituted a categorical taking of property even though affected landowners were permitted to sell their development rights, often for far more than their lot’s purchase price.
“Mr. Wolski has made no effort to temper his bias for the interests of developers over the average American,” said Sugameli. “His nomination puts at risk the right of every American to enjoy a safe, clean, and healthy environment.”
Justice Owen was defeated by the Judiciary Committee last September, but was renominated this year. In rejecting her last fall, several Senators expressed alarm at her extreme views favoring developers over clean water and individuals and her own views over legal precedent. (See Judging the Environment) A coalition of environmental groups expressed serious concerns about opinions that she had written suggesting that property rights should exempt big landowners from local clean water safeguards, and that the public may be denied information about their public health if providing that information puts a burden on the relevant agency.
“Anyone who cares about the environment and the future of our courts should have serious concerns with back-to-back hearings on two judicial nominees who do not seem to understand that there is no right to pollute,” said Sugameli.