Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked a former Interior Department (search) official who once worked for mining and cattle interests from becoming a federal appeals judge, using the debate to criticize President Bush's environmental record.

The Senate's majority Republicans were unable to muster the 60 votes needed for the confirmation of William Myers (search) for the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (search) The final vote was 53-44, making Myers the seventh Bush judicial nominee to be stopped by Senate Democrats.

Republicans said Myers was the latest victim of Democratic smear tactics aimed at stopping everyone their interest groups don't like. But Democrats said Myers was a perfect example of negative White House's views on the environment.

"If you watch what the Bush administration does, instead of just listening to what it says, there is much evidence of this administration's outright contempt for high environmental standards," said Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. "This nomination in itself says something about that. I hope that the Senate's vote today will say something about the higher priority that the Senate makes of environmental quality."

Liberals criticize Myers' opposition to environmental protections (search) when he was Interior Department solicitor, 2001-2003, and his work as a private lawyer and lobbyist for cattle and mining interests.

Conservatives say he is highly qualified, has bipartisan backing and would bring needed balance to the 9th Circuit, viewed as the nation's most liberal federal appeals court.

Republicans accused Democrats of pandering to special interest groups by denying Myers a seat on the court that handles federal appeals for nine Western states and decides many environmental cases.

"Its clear that this ... denial of an up or down vote is not about Bill Myers," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "It is, in fact, nothing more 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."

The Senate has confirmed 198 federal judges in Bush's first term so far. But Democrats have used the threat of filibusters (search) to block Bush's appeals court nominations of Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering, Alabama Attorney General William Pryor, Texas Judge Priscilla Owen, Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada and California judges Carolyn Kuhl and Janice Rogers Brown.

Estrada withdrew his nomination in September and Bush gave temporary appointments to Pickering and Pryor.

Senators also may vote this week on another nomination likely to be contested: Henry Saad (search), who was tapped for the Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Michigan's Democratic senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, want Saad blocked in part because Republicans would not allow votes on two of President Clinton's nominees for that court.