Partisan Vote Advances Bush Judge Nominee

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Times Staff Writer

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday narrowly approved the nomination of an Idaho attorney to the San Francisco-based U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, despite vigorous opposition from environmentalists and tribal organizations.

All 10 Republicans on the panel voted in favor of William G. Myers III, a longtime lawyer for the mining and cattle industries, while all nine Democrats voted against him -- setting the stage for a filibuster when the nomination reaches the Senate floor. The timing of that vote has not been set.

In the last three years, the Senate has confirmed more than 170 of President Bush’s judicial nominees. In six instances, however, Democratic lawmakers have blocked the nominations from coming to a floor vote. Each time a filibuster was successful, all of the committee Democrats had voted against the nominee.


However, Myers is the first controversial nominee in recent years to come under attack for his record on environmental, rather than social, issues.

Part of the reason is that the 9th Circuit has jurisdiction over nine Western states -- Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington -- and considers more important environmental cases than any other federal appeals court.

Republicans long have been critical of the court for what they say is a liberal bent. For example, they have charged that the 9th Circuit judges are overly protective of endangered species.

Nearly every prominent environmental group in the nation, including Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, is opposed to the nomination.

“Mr. Myers has so firmly established a public record of open hostility to environmental protections as to undermine any contention that he could bring an impartial perspective to the issues of wildlife and natural resource conservation,” the National Wildlife Federation said in February.

Myers’ nomination also is opposed by tribal, civil rights, labor and women’s groups.

But Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, took exception to the critics Thursday. He said the 48-year-old Myers “has been unfairly criticized for daring to represent farmers, ranchers and miners ... as if those who make economic uses of Western lands are less entitled to representation than the liberal environmental groups that attempt to dictate Western land policy.”


Hatch said the nominee “has an exemplary record that includes service as a successful, committed advocate and public servant,” referring to Myers’ work for former Republican Sen. Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming and as the Interior Department’s top lawyer from 2001-2003.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said Myers’ record as a private attorney, his actions as Interior Department solicitor and his public speeches attacking the nation’s environmental laws showed that he would be “an anti-environmental activist on the bench.”

“He has a consistent record,” Leahy said, “of using whatever position and authority he has had to fight for corporate interests at the expense of the environment and of the interests of the American people in environmental protections.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) also said she had “serious doubts about [Myers’] ability to rule on cases, particularly environmental and land-use cases, in an evenhanded way.”

She expressed concern about many of his public statements about environmental rules -- including his contention that federal management of rangelands was comparable with the “tyrannical actions of King George” against the American colonists.

Feinstein said the “tipping point” for her was Myers’ record as solicitor of the Interior Department. “On multiple occasions,” Feinstein said, “Myers engaged in actions that raised questions about his impartiality and professional qualifications” and showed insensitivity to the concerns of tribal groups.


Opponents, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), noted that not one of the 15 members of the American Bar Assn.’s judicial screening committee rated Myers “well qualified,” while more than one-third had judged him “not qualified.”

But Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho), Myers’ chief backer on the committee, defended the nominee, saying: “Myers’ judicial philosophy places him firmly in the mainstream of American jurisprudence.”

Craig said Myers would bring balance to the 9th Circuit, a court that he derided for its “outrageously extreme” ruling that the use of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.

But Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also has criticized the pledge decision, said that while he was “ready and willing to support the appointment of conservatives” to the 9th Circuit, that did not include Myers. “Nominating Myers is like sticking a thumb in the eye of all senators who believe extremists have no place on the federal bench,” he said.

Myers did not comment Thursday. Justice Department official John Nowacki, who has served as Myers’ spokesman, said: “We are pleased that the committee voted to send Mr. Myers’ nomination to the full Senate for its consideration and vote. With his expertise in natural resources and public lands law -- and his distinguished record in public service and private practice -- he will be an excellent addition to the 9th Circuit.”