Environmentalists Signal Support for Sotomayor

Millions of members represented by 60 groups favoring High Court nominee


Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237 

Senate Judiciary Committee members received a letter today signed by 60 national, regional, state, and local environmental, conservation and Native American organizations representing millions of members and supporters. The letter signals strong support for the Senate to confirm Judge Sonia Sotomayor as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Judge Sotomayor’s record evinces no clear bias in favor of or against environmental claims,” the groups wrote in the letter. “Instead, it reflects intellectual rigor, meticulous preparation, and fairness. Her record demonstrates a consistently balanced and thoughtful review of complex legal issues. She has interpreted and applied the laws as Congress intended and safeguarded constitutional rights.”

The letter precedes Senate confirmation hearing scheduled to begin July 13. A list of all the groups signing the letter is available at the bottom of this release.

“Our support for President Obama’s nomination of Judge Sotomayor continues,” said Earthjustice president Trip Van Noppen. “We are pleased that so many environmental groups agree: Judge Sotomayor is a fair-minded and experienced jurist whose exceptional legal knowledge and impeccable record will benefit the Supreme Court and the nation. Appointing unbiased, non-activist justices to the Supreme Court will help ensure that the Court’s decisions will faithfully implement our nation’s environmental laws.”

Despite having spent over a decade on the federal bench as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Sotomayor has participated in relatively few environmental cases. In her most significant environmental case she wrote a careful 80-page opinion upholding critical Clean Water Act safeguards. A divided Supreme Court eventually overturned the only ruling that was appealed — that the Clean Water Act precluded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from using cost-benefit analysis to determine “best technology available” to protect fish from power plant water intakes. Riverkeeper v. EPA, 475 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 2007), rev’d and rem’d, Entergy Corp. v. Riverkeeper, 129 S. Ct. 1498 (2009).

“Judge Sotomayor brings to the bench the most federal judicial experience in 100 years,” said Glenn Sugameli, senior policy counsel at Earthjustice and head of Judging the Environment, an Earthjustice judicial nominations program. “As recent, closely divided decisions demonstrate, the Supreme Court is playing a crucial role in environmental protections. We anticipate that Judge Sotomayor will bring to the Court a fundamental perspective of fairness, careful attention to, and understanding of, environmental and related statutes, and thoughtful review of complex legal issues.”

Within the last few years, Supreme Court decisions on environmental issues have shaped and greatly influenced environmental protections, including:

2006: Rapanos v. United States. The Supreme Court misinterpreted the Clean Water Act and placed water quality protections for many vital water bodies in doubt when it ruled in a split decision in this case. The muddied decision led to ambiguous implementation policies by federal agencies, putting approximately 20 million acres of wetlands and 60% of America’s streams at risk.

2007: Massachusetts v. EPA. A 5-4 majority of Justices ruled that the Clean Air Act gave the EPA authority to regulate global warming pollution from cars, trucks and other sources. The dissenting Justices unjustifiably attempted to block the Clean Air Act’s application to global warming pollution and to reinterpret the Constitution to selectively prohibit citizen and state access to court.

2009: Coeur Alaska, Inc. v. Southeast Alaska Conservation Council et al. The Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Water Act permits a mining company to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons per day of a toxic wastewater slurry into an Alaskan lake, killing its fish and aquatic life. The 6-3 ruling has dire implications for other waterways across the country and reverses a 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found the mining company’s permit in clear violation of the Clean Water Act.

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