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Federal Courts Need Environmental Protectors

Ohio Environmental Council, December 12, 2018

The lame-duck legislative sessions in Columbus and Washington can get quite crazy. The last six-weeks of the legislative period fill with a barrage of anti-environment bills in a desperate attempt to deregulate protections for our land, water, air, and public health. However, politicians don’t stop with bad legislation, especially in D.C., as many controversial judicial nominations slip through the cracks, too.

President Trump’s nominees have been more than partisan, with extreme views and little judicial experience. The Senate holds hearings and ultimately votes on whether to confirm these candidates, though it has shown little to no desire in denying Trump’s nominations.

As a result, our federal courts may lose their ability to consistently protect the environment, along with civil and human rights. Many of these nominees have spent their careers degrading integral portions of our regulatory systems.

Right now, before they head home for the holiday season, the U.S. Senate is trying again to push through these extreme nominees to federal courts around the country.  This hurried push includes two nominees for vacancies to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals—the court of last resort for the vast majority of Ohio’s federal cases, including the OEC’s own lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management.

President Trump nominated both Chad Reidler and Eric Murphy to the Sixth Circuit on June 18, and the Senate held their hearings in October. At anytime, the Senate could take up a final confirmation vote giving these two lifetime appointments to one of our most pivotal courts.

Readler currently serves as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Justice Department, and has worked for the Justice Department since January 2017. As a partner at Jones Day in 2016, he defended Trump’s presidential campaign against voter intimidation allegations.

Readler’s rather limited environmental record generates more questions than answers regarding how he may view such cases at the Court of Appeals. It’s even more disconcerting that Readler has consistently sided with and defended just about everything the Trump Administration has enacted or proposed. This includes Trump’s attacks on healthcare access, student access to debt relief, and voter rights. There is little reason to believe Readler would behave any differently when it comes to the environment, though we can’t be certain.

Murphy on the other hand, has a clear and consistent antagonistic record, defending anti-environment, and challenging pro-environment regulations, during his services as the Ohio Solicitor General. Acting for the State of Ohio, Murphy joined the multi-state petition against the implementation of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, an Obama era policy that has been widely regarded as a necessary step for mitigating the potentially catastrophic impacts of climate change.

Murphy has also attacked the Endangered Species Act numerous times. In one case in particular, he argued that individuals may harm endangered species on non-federal land. If that claim were successful, he would have eliminated significant protections for many endangered and threatened species.

Murphy is undeniably an ardent opponent to any form of environmental protection, which proves that he clearly does not have the well-being of Ohioans in mind. This is even more apparent from reviewing the rest of Murphy’s track record, as he frequently sided with special interests and, similar to Readler, continually worked to limit voting rights.

Both nominees advocated to uphold Ohio’s restrictive voter law that required perfectly matching addresses and birth-dates on otherwise legitimate provisional and absentee ballots, causing many ballots to be thrown out due to small clerical errors. Both defended proposed voter roll purges in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, targeting registered voters who had been inactive for 2 years or longer. Both defended the state’s reduction of the early voting period from 35 days to 28 days, and both fought to reverse the “Golden Week” policy that allowed Ohio voters to register and vote at the same time.

These actions just scratch the surface of how these two have defended limits on the rights of Ohioans to cast a ballot, and throws a shadow on the future of voting rights if they reach the bench.

The OEC does not merely advocate for a cleaner Ohio just for the sake of good policy, but to protect and improve the lives of Ohioans. Ohio’s environmental rights are intertwined with racial and social rights. These two nominees do not represent the values of Ohioans, and their résumés imply that they’d only work counter to the causes we all hold dear.

We need Ohio’s United States Senators to stand up and fight for the rights of all Americans by saying NO to extreme, anti-environmental nominees to our federal courts. The future depends on it.

This post was written by Zach Shank, an intern at the OEC.