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The Planet
Alerts: Gaveling the Courts

Estrada Ad
Judge Who? The mystery man above appeared as part of an ad placed in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill, by the Sierra Club and other groups concerned about Bush's judicial nominations. See the complete ad at
Alabama Attorney General William Pryor has argued against tough enforcement of the Clean Air Act, in favor of reducing the amount of wetlands protected by the Clean Water Act, and for the rights of polluting industries over nearby residents.

Pryor also recently joined a series of anti-environmental nominees, most notably Miguel Estrada and Carolyn Kuhl, that the Bush administration has attempted to hustle into lifetime judicial appointments. But due to fierce debate in the Senate, their futures remain in question as the August recess begins.

"We want President Bush to nominate judges with records of enforcing laws that protect our clean air, our clean water, and our special places," says David Bookbinder, senior attorney for the Sierra Club. "The courts may be the last hope we have to halt the Bush administration's assault on the environment."

The most mysterious nominee is Miguel Estrada, the administration's candidate for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often cited as the the nation's second most influential court. In a striking maneuver, the White House is attempting to withhold or keep secret all details about Estrada's legal background and views, and use its political weight to push him through the Senate judicial approval process.

Estrada has never served as on the bench before. He spent most of the 1990s at the Justice Department, which has refused to release the legal briefs he wrote there. He declined to offer opinions on a wide range of cases during a Senate Judiciary hearing, including American Trucking v. EPA, in which the Supreme Court upheld strong protections that eliminate soot and smog pollution from vehicles.

Yet the Bush administration was surprised when Democratic senators refused to approve Estrada. "We applaud those senators who refused to mindlessly rubber stamp Estrada's nomination and instead are demanding answers," says Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope.

Unfortunately, what is known about the other nominees may be more troubling than what is unknown about Estrada.

Because of Judge Carolyn Kuhl's troubling record on a variety of issues, California's two Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, asked Senate Judiciary Chair Orrin Hatch not to send her nomination to the floor. The most troubling example of Judge Kuhl's ideology came during her argument in UAW v.Brock (1986), where she unequivocally urged the Supreme Court to overrule the doctrine of associational standing.

This doctrine is the legal basis that allows environmental groups, trade unions, and other organizations to represent their members' interests in court. Without it, the Sierra Club and many other groups would be crippled in their ability to hold polluters and governments accountable.

Kuhl, Pryor, and others are also devoted to the values of "new federalism," which elevates state sovereignty over Congress' authority, an especially dangerous doctrine when the White House is encouraging the loosening of environmental regulations, and states may be tempted to lower the bar even further to compete for business.

Opposing judicial nominees is not business-as-usual at the Sierra Club. Despite strong objections to others like Priscilla Owens and Charles Pickering, only 5 of the 150 nominees proposed by the Bush administration have been opposed – Estrada, Pryor, and Kuhl, Jeffrey Sutton for the Sixth Circuit and Victor Wolski for the Court of Federal Claims.

Write or call your senators and tell them to oppose the Bush administration's tactics and nominees. The administration must consult with the Senate before selecting nominees, allow lawmakers access to candidates' background information, and choose nominees that respect the environment and the Constitution.

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