December 13, 2006 in Idaho

Boise judge’s nomination may be doomed, insiders say

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer Associated Press
 

BOISE – If President George W. Bush renominates a controversial Republican Idaho lawyer for a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, he’s going to have a tough fight ahead of him, Senate leaders say.

The nomination of Boise lawyer William Gerry Myers III, which has been stalled in the Senate for three years, may have almost reached an end. Now that Democrats have control of Congress, a consensus has formed on Capitol Hill that Myers – who has stirred up some of the fiercest Democratic opposition of all Bush’s judicial nominees – has almost no chance of getting through.

“I think he’s definitely a well-qualified nominee, but whether he can make it through a Democratic Congress is a different story,” said Dan Whiting, spokesman for Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who first submitted Myers to Bush as a potential nominee.

That’s especially true now that some have suggested Myers may have misled senators about meeting Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff during questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawmakers say.

“The reality is this president’s nominee hasn’t been able to win support for the past two years from a Congress controlled by his own political party,” said Tracy Schmaler, spokeswoman for Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Leahy said in a speech last week that Bush “squandered an opportunity to fill Idaho’s vacancy” on the 9th Circuit by renominating Myers on Nov. 15, in a last-ditch effort to push his nominees through before Congress changed hands.

Myers, the former top lawyer at the Interior Department, was first nominated to the seat in May 2003 to fill a vacancy left by retiring Idaho Judge Tom Nelson.

He’s one of two Bush nominees from Idaho – along with Idaho 6th District Judge Norman Randy Smith – up for judgeships on the 9th Circuit, which hears appeals from courts in nine Western states, as well as the U.S. Territory of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. Republicans have supported Smith and Myers, saying that they would bring ideological balance to one of the most liberal courts in the nation.

When Myers was nominated, liberal groups immediately attacked his record of opposing environmental protections when he worked as a lobbyist for cattle and mining interests. American Indian groups have also spoken out against him, in particular for an Interior Department decision that cleared the way for a gold mine in California that they say threatens tribal lands.

“I think the Senate ought to only confirm individuals who merit the highest respect in the country,” said Nan Aron, president of the liberal judicial watchdog group Alliance for Justice, which has been a major voice against Myers’ nomination. “And certainly William Myers’ record proves that he’s unqualified for a lifetime seat on the 9th Circuit.”

A report in the Denver Post raised more questions for the embattled nominee earlier this month. The story, based on information obtained through a public records search, showed Myers was among two dozen people who attended a dinner party with Jack Abramoff in September 2001.

But in a March 2005 letter to Leahy, Myers wrote that after “searching his memory and files” he couldn’t remember having any contact with Abramoff.

Abramoff, a once-powerful lobbyist, pleaded guilty in an influence-peddling scandal and is cooperating with a wide-ranging Justice Department probe of alleged corruption on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch.

If Bush renominates Myers, the nominee will have many questions to answer about his ethics record, Leahy said in the Dec. 8 speech.

Leahy suggested this month that Bush nominate Smith for the judge seat that would be filled by Myers.

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