Those who read our piece on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts know that one of greens’ principle concerns about him is his interpretation of the commerce clause. In short, the commerce clause, which gives Congress the right to regulate interstate commerce, has been broadly interpreted and used as the foundation for a great deal of important environmental legislation. If SCOTUS chooses to interpret it more narrowly, much of that legislation could be challenged. (This is what was at stake in the case of the “hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California” — i.e., doesn’t cross state lines.)

Meanwhile: Arlen Specter (R-Penn.), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is sick and tired of SCOTUS questioning — nay, mocking! — the reasoning Congress uses to pass laws. He just sent Roberts a letter saying as much: “members of Congress are irate about the Court’s denigrating and, really, disrespectful statements about Congress’s competence.” Denigrating and disrespectful statements about Congress! Say it ain’t so.

In particular, Specter asked Roberts about his his opinion of two cases — U.S. v. Lopez and U.S. v. Morrison — that turned on the commerce clause. (Both were narrow judgments finding that Congress had overreached.)

Why should you care about this? Well, Specter says he plans on asking Roberts about this stuff at his confirmation hearings. And that’s somewhat surprising — Republican leadership had been saying that Roberts shouldn’t have to answer questions on individual issues. (I’d be curious to find out if Specter is off the reservation about this.) So while ineffectual Democrats will have no luck finding out what Roberts really thinks about an issue central to environmental legislation, Specter might just find out for them.

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(You can read more about this, and Specter’s letter, on Greenwire if you have a paid subscription, which you probably don’t.)

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