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Senate vote set on Bush appeal court nominee

Update: The Senate voted 53-44 this afternoon, seven votes short of the 60 needed to end debate. The nomination was blocked.

A controversial federal court nominee whom tribes say will be a disaster for Indian Country goes up for a crucial Senate vote this afternoon.

William G. Myers III, a lawyer and former lobbyist for the ranching, grazing and cattle industries, has been nominated for a spot on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court hears cases affecting more than 100 tribes in nine Western states, more than 200 tribes in Alaska and Native Hawaiians in Hawaii.

Due to the importance of the court, tribal leaders have taken a close look at Myers and don't like what they see. Organizations like the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), the California Nations Indian Gaming Association (CNIGA) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) say he will put the interests of industry over Indians.

"For Indian Country, Mr. Myers is the worst possible choice," said NCAI president Tex Hall.

NCAI was urging tribes to show their opposition to Myers in advance of today's vote. Since he is the target of a Democratic filibuster, Senate Republicans will need to muster 60 votes in order to end debate on the nomination.

So far, Republicans have been unable to break the Democrats' hold on several of President Bush's most controversial picks for the federal bench. If they fail again today, Myers will be the seventh nominee blocked by the Democrats.

Objections to Myers center on actions he took as the Interior Department's top lawyer, a post he held from July 2001 until December 2003. During that time, he played a role in cases affecting sacred sites and the management of the Indian trust.

In his most criticized decision, Myers overturned a legal opinion that protected the sacred lands of the Quechan Nation from development. The reversal favored a Canadian company that wants to build a huge, open-pit gold mine on sites the tribe uses for ceremonies, pilgrimages and other religious activities.

During his confirmation hearing in February, Myers admitted he never consulted the tribe despite serving, in his official capacity, as the tribe's trustee. But he did meet with representatives of Glamis Gold, the company behind the mine proposal.

"You're open to one side and not the other?" said Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) at the time. "Did it ever occur to you that you ought to talk with the other side?"

Myers also sided with another mining company in a dispute with the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in Nevada. The tribe, supported by local non-Indian residents, is fighting a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week kitty litter mine that would be located next to the reservation.

Despite the local opposition, Myers intervened in a court case the Oil-Dri company filed against county officials who voted against the mine. The legal brief supported the company's right to develop in the tribe's backyard.

When asked to name significant cases he has participated in during his career, Myers cited two trust mismanagement cases that went before the U.S. Supreme Court. On behalf of the Bush administration, Myers and other government attorneys advocated for a limited trust responsibility to the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe. The justices rejected the government's line of defense.

Tribes aren't the only ones opposing Myers. Environmental and conservation groups say he is unqualified to sit on the federal bench.

After leaving the Bush administration, Myers returned to work at the Holland & Hart law firm, where he serves of counsel in the Boise, Idaho, office.

Relevant Documents:
NCAI Resolution | NCAI Letter | Environmental/Tribal Coalition Letter | NCAI Resolution | Environmental Group's Letter | Holland & Hart Biography

Indianz.Com Profile:
Industry insider named to Interior (March 30, 2001)

From the Archive:
Myers reversing sacred site opinion (10/25)
Bush nominee has no 'agenda' on Clinton decisions (6/21)