Halloween Supreme Court Nomination is a Scary Choice

Judge Alito could undermine laws that safeguard health and environment


Cat Lazaroff or Glenn Sugameli, 202-667-4500

Earthjustice warned today that President Bush’s nomination of Judge Samuel Alito, Jr. to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Supreme Court could threaten a wide range of laws that safeguard the health and environment of all Americans.

“With this nomination on Halloween, President Bush appears to be giving a sweet treat to the radical right, and playing a nasty trick on the vast majority of Americans,” said Glenn Sugameli, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “The entire country knows that Judge Alito was hand-picked by the radical right after they torpedoed the nomination of Harriet Miers.

“Earthjustice is extremely concerned that Judge Alito has repeatedly sought to go even farther than the current Supreme Court majority in restricting Congress’ authority to allow Americans to protect their rights in court, and to enact laws that protect our health and environment.”

  • In Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron (MEI), Judge Alito joined in a 2-1 ruling gutting citizens’ access to courts under the Clean Water Act. Although the Act authorizes citizens to bring a “civil enforcement action” against alleged polluters, the Third Circuit ruling declared that PIRG did not have standing to sue because it had not demonstrated that MEI’s pollution resulted in serious harm to the environment (reversing a rare $2.6 million fine handed down by the trial court for MEI’s violations of the Act). The majority concluded that the Constitution denied Congress the authority to pass a law allowing citizens access to courts in these circumstances. Three years later, the Supreme Court essentially reversed and rejected Judge Alito’s analysis, ruling (in a 7-2 decision over a heated dissent by Justice Scalia) that “the relevant showing… is not injury to the environment, but injury to the plaintiff.” [Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw]
  • In Chittister v. Department of Community and Economic Development, Judge Alito wrote an opinion holding that the 11th Amendment precluded state employees from suing for damages to enforce their rights under the “self care” (sick leave) provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act. A 6-3 Supreme Court majority in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs reached the opposite result as to the “family care” provisions of the Act in 2003.
  • Judge Alito wrote a dissent in the U.S. v. Rybar case that would have unjustifiably restricted Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause, which is the basis for most federal environmental laws. The majority opinion upheld a conviction under the federal law prohibiting the transfer or possession of machine guns, but Judge Alito would have ruled that the law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court refused to review the case.

“The Senate has a duty to ensure that the next Justice will be committed to upholding these safeguards and protecting the rights of all Americans,” said Sugameli. “It is essential that all Senators recognize their responsibility to conduct a comprehensive, in-depth review of the nominee’s record and views in deciding whether to confirm him to a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court.”


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