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Drowned Out: Environmental Groups' Oppose Alito

You Didn't Know? You're Not Reading Your "Commerce Clause"

On January 25th, more than 50 environmental and conservation groups announced their opposition to Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. The groups said that they were taking this step even though they had not opposed a confirmation since that of Robert Bork in 1987. Bork's nomination was rejected by the Senate that year, the last nominee to be rejected by the Senate.

Judge Alito was confirmed on a 58-42 vote on January 31st.

Alito generated this opposition because of his narrow view of the U.S Constitution's "commerce clause" which permits Congress to regulate interestate commerce and is the legal basis for nearly all environmental laws (as well as virutally all economic regulation). The groups also conclude that Alito's record demonstrates that his confirmation would threaten Congress' ability to ensure that citizens have the right to go to court to enforce these laws. He has consistently ruled against citizens rights to take polluters to court over breaches of environmental law. Judge Alito overturned a $2.6 million dollar settlement against a polluter that violated its Clean Water Act permit more than 150 times.

There is reason for concern. Before July, the Supreme Court will decide two major environmental cases that concern the constitutionality of existing Clean Water Act safeguards, and by extension, the fate of other national laws that protect our health and environment. If confirmed, Judge Alito could be the decisive vote that will determine whether Congress has the constitutional authority to prevent the pollution and destruction of the majority of America's streams and wetlands.

The environmental lobby will need to review whether an announcement less than one week before the confirmation was wise. At the same time, there is a larger question as to whether the abortion issue is the only issue that should receive a hearing--as well as significant press coverage--during the confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court Justice. Not our role here to resolve this issue, just to raise it.

Read the letter from the groups sent to the Senate