In a partial victory today for the independence of our federal courts and the preservation of environmental protections, a bipartisan coalition of 14 Senators today agreed not to vote during this Congress to change Senate rules to eliminate the right to filibuster controversial judicial nominees. In addition, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) announced that Senate Democrats will continue to block anti-environmental nominee William Myers, whose hostility toward environmental protections prompted record opposition from groups around the country.
“The decision of moderate senators to reach a compromise that allows them to step back from the brink of all-out partisan ‘nuclear’ warfare in the United States Senate is a victory for democracy, and for our nation’s protections for clean air, clean water, and special natural places,” said Glenn Sugameli, who heads Earthjustice’s Judging the Environment project. “The fact that William Myers will not be allowed to be confirmed shows how important environmental protections have become to the issue of maintaining fair and independent courts.”
The seven Republican and seven Democrats from the Senate agreed not to support any effort to eliminate judicial filibusters during the 109th Congress.
Under the agreement, seven Senate Republicans would agree to reject the efforts of Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) to break Senate rules and traditions in order to force the confirmation of right-wing activist judges. The agreement leaves intact the ability of a minority of senators to filibuster controversial nominees, and thereby invoke a requirement that 60 senators must agree to support a confirmation vote.
The ability of the Senate to filibuster controversial nominees has served as an important check-and-balance on the power of the Executive Branch for more than 200 years.
“This agreement recognizes how truly nuclear Senator Frist’s proposal to break longstanding rules really was,” Sugameli said. “Thankfully, seven Republican Senators had the backbone to stand up to Senator Frist and support the Senate’s long tradition of hearing all voices on these crucial lifetime judgeships.”
The agreement to abide by Senate rules and leave the filibuster rules intact come at an high price, however. Under the agreement, Senate Democrats have agreed to allow final votes on the merits of right-wing activist nominees William Pryor, Priscilla Owen, and Janice Rogers Brown.
“Earthjustice will continue to strongly oppose the nominations of Pryor, Owen, and Brown, and urge the Senate to reject them,” Sugameli noted. “Based on their records, these nominees still do not deserve lifetime seats on the federal bench.”
According to Senator Reid, filibusters will continue against anti-environmental nominees William Myers and Judge Henry Saad.
The Memorandum of Understanding signed by the 14 Senators encourages President Bush to “consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration.”
“We hope that the President will follow the advice of these fourteen Senators and consult with members of both parties to head off future extreme nominees like William Myers who have no respect for our nation’s environmental laws,” Sugameli added.