Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Democrats lodged a filibuster yesterday against a nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, accusing him of being an “anti-environment activist.”

A cloture vote fell seven short of the 60 votes needed to force a final confirmation decision on William G. Myers III, who became the sixth judicial nominee of President Bush’s to be filibustered by a minority group of Democrats.

Republicans vowed to make Democratic obstruction of judicial nominees an issue in the November elections.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, made that point clear last night by scheduling a vote for Judge Henry W. Saad of Michigan, who is nominated to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and will likely be filibustered.

Yesterday’s 53-44 vote on the Myers nomination overshadowed other developments, including the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval of a constitutional amendment to make illegal the burning of the American flag.

Democrats opposed Mr. Myers, a lawyer for the Department of Interior from Idaho, saying he would wreak havoc in the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco and covering some of the largest national forests in the country.

“For 22 years, Mr. Myers has been an outspoken antagonist of long-established environmental protections, usually wearing the hat of a paid lobbyist for industry,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“As the chief lawyer at the Department of the Interior, Mr. Myers disregarded the law in order to make it easier for companies to mine on public lands — a position consistent with his prior role lobbying for mining interests while he was in private practice.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, chided his Democratic colleagues for blocking a final vote on Mr. Myers instead of simply voting against him.

“Yesterday, I said that senators should ask themselves, ‘Is this vote on Bill Myers really about Bill Myers?’ Well, it’s clear that this cloture vote, this denial of an up or down vote, is not about Bill Myers,” Mr. Hatch said.

“It is, in fact, nothing more than a reflection of special-interest group disdain for policies favored by farmers, ranchers, miners, the Bush Interior Department, or anyone else who advocates balanced uses of Western lands.”

Also yesterday, the Judiciary Committee bypassed Mr. Bush’s nominee to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — Claude A. Allen — signaling that Mr. Hatch may not move the Democrat-opposed nominee this year.

He did move forward with two other contentious nominees — federal District Court Judge David W. McKeague and Michigan Judge Richard A. Griffin — both named to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Their approval in committee along straight party lines signals that Democrats intend to filibuster the judges on the Senate floor.

In a further effort to make the Democratic blockade of judges an issue in the November elections, the conservative group Coalition for a Fair Judiciary pressed Senate candidates to sign a pledge to give all judicial nominees a vote on final confirmation.

Republican Senate hopeful Mel Martinez — running to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat — signed that pledge yesterday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also narrowly approved an amendment to ban the burning of the American flag. All committee Republicans and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, voted in favor of the amendment.

Sen. John Edwards, North Carolina Democrat and vice-presidential hopeful, cast an absentee vote against the amendment. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, declined to take a position.

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