New Federalist judicial nominees
spell trouble for the environment
By Glen Hooks
Regional Conservation Organizer, Arkansas
Why should you care who presides over our federal courts? When it comes right
down to it, do federal courts make any difference in our lives at all? The
answer is no—unless, of course, you care about the environment, civil rights,
reproductive freedom, workers’ rights, women’s rights, labor
and employment law, or civil liberties.
Most environmental laws are enforced by the federal courts. If you go to court
to enforce the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act, your fate will be determined
by a federal judge.
Federal judges—from the lower federal courts to the U.S, Supreme Court—are
appointed for lifetime terms.
Many of the Bush Administration’s nominees subscribe to extreme interpretations
of the Constitution, notably "new federalism," which elevates state
sovereignty over federal authority, and threatens Congress’ ability
to protect the environment.
To put this into perspective, let’s imagine a situation where your local
Sierra Club group identified a factory that was committing gross violations of
the Clean Air Act. Imagine also that the Club’s subsequent lawsuit was
assigned to a judge who, in his days as a lawyer, had published numerous writings
in which he disputed the federal government’s power to enforce environmental
law. Would you expect this judge to be impartial and unbiased?
The answer is as obvious as it is chilling. Adherents of new federalism would
take the federal enforcement cop off the beat, allowing states to disregard
federal environmental laws at will. For example, William Myers, III, former
lobbyist for the mining and beef industries, and recent Bush nominee to the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, compared federal environmental regulation
to the "tyrannical" rule
of King George III over the American colonies. Myers, who lacks any judicial
experience, ridiculed the California Desert Protection Act as "an act of
legislative hubris" and likened the government’s reintroduction of
wolves to Yellowstone to the forced quartering of British troops in American
colonial homes. The 9th Circuit—one level below the United States Supreme
Court—covers many Western states and handles a number of hotly contested
environmental issues. Is Myers likely to shed his long-held beliefs and become
impartial simply because he dons the black robe of the judiciary?
We don’t get to vote for federal judges. The president nominates a candidate,
and the Senate votes whether or not to confirm the nominee. It’s at
the confirmation process where your voice can make an enormous difference.
judges confirmed in 2003 may very well still be making critical legal decisions
in the year 2040.
Contact your senators and tell them to be sure that judicial nominees have
a record of upholding federal environmental laws—not allowing a rollback
of 30 years of progress in the name of states’ rights—before
voting to confirm. Write to: Your Senator, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510.
the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121.
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