Democrats yesterday blocked the appeals court nomination of former Interior Department solicitor William G. Myers III, rekindling the Senate's bitter struggle over President Bush's judicial choices just before the two parties' national conventions.
The vote on Myers, who was accused by Democrats of hostility to environmental causes, was 53 to 44, seven short of the 60 needed to force action on his nomination to the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. He was the seventh Bush choice for the federal bench to be stopped by a Democratic filibuster.
Senate Republicans knew Democrats would almost certainly block Myers, who was a lawyer and lobbyist for cattle and mining interests before joining the Bush administration and had drawn opposition from environmental, Native American and other groups. But they scheduled a showdown vote to showcase their argument -- already featured prominently in campaigns for this fall's elections -- that Democrats are obstructing Bush's judicial choices.
The vote was less about Myers 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," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah).
Democrats countered that Myers personified the administration's approach to the environment and what they described as Bush's intention to pack the courts with ideologically driven conservatives.
"His nomination is the epitome of the anti-environment tilt of so many of President Bush's nominees" and follows a pattern of trying to "turn the independent federal judiciary into an arm of the Republican Party," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat.
Myers was the first Bush judicial nominee rejected primarily on environmental grounds. Democrats accused him of a series of provocative actions and statements, including one comparing government management of public lands to "the tyrannical actions of King George" toward American colonies and suggesting that regulations were turning the West into "little more than a theme park."
Republicans accused the Democrats of exaggerating and defended Myers as a conservationist and "exemplary" nominee who would decide cases on the merits, not ideology.
While Republicans have used the nominations controversy to appeal to their conservative base, environmental groups said the Myers nomination has done the same for them and their allies. "It has tremendously energized environmental groups," said David Bookbinder, a Sierra Club official.
The Senate has confirmed 198 of Bush's judicial nominations so far. Of the six other nominees blocked by Democrats, two -- Charles W. Pickering Sr. of Mississippi (5th Circuit) and William H. Pryor Jr. of Alabama (11th Circuit) -- were given temporary judicial appointments by the president.
Miguel A. Estrada, nominated for the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, withdrew. Three others -- Priscilla R. Owen of Texas (5th Circuit) and Carolyn B. Kuhl (9th Circuit) and Janice Rogers Brown (D.C. Circuit), both of California -- are being filibustered.