Bush nominee opposed by Indian Country advances
Friday, April 2, 2004

A Bush administration court nominee whom tribes describe as a disaster for Indian Country was approved by a party-line vote on Thursday.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-9 to send the nomination of William G. Myers III to the Senate floor. All Republicans on the panel supported the former Interior solicitor while all Democrats opposed him, setting the stage for yet another filibuster of one of President Bush's judicial nominees.

Tribal leaders have waged an unprecedented campaign against Myers, a lawyer who has represented the ranching, grazing and cattle industries. They say he is unfit for a spot on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers more than 100 tribes in nine Western states, more than 200 tribes in Alaska and Native Hawaiians in Hawaii.

"For Indian Country, Mr. Myers is the worst possible choice," said National Congress of American Indians President Tex Hall last month.

A broad coalition that includes NCAI, the California Nations Indian Gaming Association, the Native American Rights Fund and the Quechan Nation entered the debate in response to Myers' record as the Department of Interior's top lawyer. After joining the Bush administration in July 2001, he played a role in several high-profile cases affecting sacred sites and the trust relationship.

The pivotal case is his decision to rescind a legal opinion that prevented a foreign company from mining for gold within the Quechan Nation's most sacred site in southern California. Myers didn't consult the tribe before acting despite repeated requests, but he did meet with representatives of the company.

"For his refusal to even talk to tribes across the nation and to protect federal land and sacred places, he should not be appointed to this court," said Quechan President Mike Jackson. "It's going to be bad for Indian Country."

The Bush administration and Senate Republicans have defended Myers from criticism. Supporters say his work as a public servant and as attorney in private practice should not be confused with his understanding of the law.

"Mr. Myers' record as the Interior Department's solicitor, where he was doing his duty to represent the policy positions of the United States, has been attacked because certain groups don't like those policies," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday before the panel vote.

But Keith Harper, a NARF attorney who is sitting on the opposing side of the Interior in the Cobell trust fund suit, said Myers ignored his legal and ethical obligations as a trustee. Through his handling of sacred sites and the trust fund, Myers failed to act in the best interests of individual Indians and tribes, Harper said.

"We have here a nominee that has galvanized Indian Country for one important reason: he has undermined all the things that are held valuable to Indian people," Harper said.

Myers, whose confirmation hearing was held February 5, faces an uncertain future on the Senate floor, where Democrats have blocked a handful of judicial nominees they have deemed outside of the mainstream. Republicans have failed to muster 60 votes to defeat the Democratic filibusters, prompting President Bush to bypass the Senate by making some recess appointments.

Myers left the Interior Department last December to rejoin the Holland & Hart law firm, where he serves of counsel in the Boise, Idaho, office.

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

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