WASHINGTON – In that now-famous, or perhaps infamous, compromise deal by 14 U.S. senators hoping to end a quarrel over judicial filibusters, the name of former Interior Department Solicitor General William Myers (search) was excluded from an agreement not to filibuster.
For months, Republicans claimed to have the votes to confirm Myers to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals were it not for democratic filibusters. But now he remains in judicial limbo. Detractors say it is because he lacks the necessary Washington gravitas. The American Bar Association rated him "qualified," but supporters say that's too lukewarm.
"He has the ability to look at the law, interpret it fairly and not try to use the law for some political purpose," said Jay Truitt of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
By far, the most resounding charge against Myers is that he's anti-environment. Opponents point to positions he took as a lobbyist, lawyer and as solicitor general for the Department of the Interior and accuse him of attacking laws protecting lands, water and endangered species.
Myers sharply denied the charge during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved him in March.
"I've been an advocate for clients. If I were to be confirmed, I would be an advocate for the law," he said.
One of his most controversial decisions involved pristine grounds in California, where corporate miner Glamis Gold hoped to dig for gold and leave in its path a pit. As solicitor general, Myers read the law to allow the mining, outraging members of the Quechan tribe, whose lands surround the property.
"William Myers, by the stroke of a pen, decided he'll destroy our history along with our tribe. We're not going to let that happen," said Quechan tribal chief Mike Jackson.
Myers' supporters say that decision was wholly unremarkable, a red herring used by Democrats to blemish a routine legal opinion.
"When the solicitor makes a decision for the Department of the Interior, what they do is look at the law as it exists. It's not a policy question, it's really analyzing the law the way the courts have interpreted it," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton (search).
Myers is also under fire for a controversial settlement with a Wyoming rancher accused of grazing violations. Critics say the deal, negotiated by a Myers underling at the Interior Department, all but excused the rancher's numerous violations without getting anything in return.
Myers denies approving the deal and says he wasn't aware of its terms. But opponents say it's proof of the bias he'll bring to the 9th Circuit, a court that covers almost three-quarters of all public lands.
"Miners, ranchers and farmers have never had a problem finding advocates in the hall of power. Trees and lakes and rivers do," said David Bookbinder of the Sierra Club.
Two-thirds of the judges on the 9th Circuit were appointed by Democratic presidents, one-third by Republicans. GOP sources in the Senate confirm they plan to call for a vote on Myers sometime this month.
Democrats are expected to filibuster, and key senators in that compromise deal confirm that a filibuster of Myers will not trigger the "nuclear" or "constitutional" option, meaning the nominee may not get an up-or-down vote.