Photo: White HouseEnviros are cheering for brand-new Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday on a 68-31 vote. Well, make that many enviros, not all.
“We congratulate Justice Sotomayor on her historic confirmation to the high court, where her extensive experience will serve her well,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope. “With many of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws under constant attack, Supreme Court decisions in coming years will continue to have far-reaching environmental implications.”
Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen also praised her confirmation, while acknowledging that she doesn’t have much of a record on environmental cases: “Judge Sotomayor’s record evinces no clear bias in favor or against environmental issues, but instead reflects meticulous preparation, a balanced and thoughtful review, and a deep understanding of the law.”
The Sierra Club and Earthjustice were among dozens of green groups that formally backed Sotomayor in July, encouraging the Senate Judiciary Committee to approve her nomination. In a letter [PDF] to the committee, the groups were generally complimentary about her thin record:
She wrote a notable Clean Water Act decision, methodically analyzing and resolving various conservation, state, and industry challenges to a regulation designed to protect fish from being killed in the cooling water intake structures at large power plants. While a divided Supreme Court reversed one of the more than a dozen rulings in the case, her decision reflects well-researched, thorough, and thoughtful legal analysis that probes the statute, its context, legislative history, and judicial precedent to discern and remain true to congressional intent. The Second Circuit has yet to issue a decision in a public nuisance case brought against utilities for harm caused by power plant greenhouse gas emissions, but observers praised Judge Sotomayor’s preparation and deep engagement in the complex issues at oral argument. Beyond the decisions she has written, Judge Sotomayor joined a decision upholding a Vermont law requiring that labels inform consumers that certain products contain mercury and must be disposed of as hazardous waste, although she also joined a Clean Air Act decision that went against environmental litigants.
But green activist and Grist contributor Ken Ward contended last month that Sotomayor didn’t deserve an endorsement from enviros. “If there was ever a time when the U.S. Supreme Court requires a passionate, articulate and unabashed voice for the environment—another William O. Douglas—that time is now,” he argued — and Sotomayor ain’t it.
Jennifer Koons of Greenwire has a good rundown of the environmental topics that cropped up during Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings. Get more on Sotomayor’s green record from Grist’s Kate Sheppard, Joe Walsh of CleanTechies blog, and Earthjustice.