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Democrats scuttle another Bush court nominee

Senate Democrats successfully blocked another of President Bush's judicial nominees on Tuesday in what Republicans criticized as a partisan campaign.

Tribal leaders who opposed the placement of William G. Myers III on a court that handles key Indian law cases welcomed his rejection. Myers, an attorney and former lobbyist for the ranching, grazing and cattle industries, was picked for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers more than 200 tribes in nine Western states.

"William Myers' blatant disregard for federal law affecting Native sacred places proved that he was simply unfit for a lifetime appointment to the bench." said Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, one of dozens of tribal organizations that fought the nomination.

But Republicans blasted Democrats for filibustering Myers, who was the Interior Department's top lawyer for the first two years of the Bush administration. He is the seventh judicial nominee to suffer defeat on the Senate floor.

"Once again Senate Democrats are making history by denying the Senate the right to vote on a judicial nominee," said Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho), a supporter of Myers.

John Thune, a former Congressman running for the Senate, pinned the blame on his rival, Sen. Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota). Daschle is the Democratic minority leader.

Daschle, said Thune, "once again turned his back on South Dakota and sided with liberal extremists in obstructing the nomination of William Myers." Thune said farmers and ranchers in the state supported the nomination even though South Dakota is not part of the 9th Circuit.

However, Daschle responded that tribal opposition was behind his vote. "Mr. Myers' work as solicitor at the Department of the Interior demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the government-to-government trust relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes," he said.

Sen. Tim Johnson (D-South Dakota), whose 524-vote victory over Thune is credited to Indian voters, also defended his vote yesterday. "It is apparent that Mr. Myers will put industry ahead of our environment, the sacred land rights of Native Americans, and most importantly, what is in the best interest of the general public," he said.

What happened on the floor was not an up-or-down vote on Myers. Since he was the target of a filibuster, Republicans needed 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to end debate.

Securing only 53 votes during an afternoon roll call, they failed to defeat the filibuster. Every Republican, including Sens. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colorado) and John McCain (Arizona), who might otherwise support the tribal viewpoint, voted in favor of ending debate but fell short even with the help of two Democrats, Sens. Joe Biden (Delaware) and Ben Nelson (Delaware)

Sens. John Kerry (Massachusetts) and John Edwards (North Carolina), the presumptive Democratic presidential ticket, didn't vote.

Myers' work as Interior solicitor formed the basis of the campaign against him. 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.

Myers left his Interior post in December 2003. He returned to work at the Holland & Hart law firm, where he serves of counsel in the Boise, Idaho, office.

Roll Call:
Motion to Invoke Cloture on the Nomination of William Gerry Myers, III, of Idaho, to be U.S. Circuit Judge (July 20, 2004)

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)