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Sierra Club Opposes First Supreme Court Nomination Since Bork
January 2006

Statement of David Bookbinder, Sierra Club Senior Attorney

In the first such move since the Bork nomination of 1987, the Sierra Club today joins with other national environmental groups to urge Senators to oppose the confirmation of Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court. Americans deserve mainstream, independent Justices, with unassailable integrity, who will protect individual rights and freedoms. Unfortunately, Judge Alito's opinions and other statements, combined with a disturbing lack of candor since being nominated, show that Judge Alito cannot be trusted to protect those rights and freedoms. The more one learns about his positions, the clearer it is that he's the wrong choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Court.

Sierra Club's opposition to Judge Alito's confirmation rests on his Constitutional philosophy as expressed in opinions that threaten both the ability of Congress to pass laws to protect the environment, and the ability of citizens to enforce those laws.

In U.S. v. Rybar, Judge Alito dissented from a decision upholding Congress' power under the Commerce Clause to regulate possession of machine guns. Coming after six other federal appeals courts had upheld the same law, his reasoning is extremely troubling. This is not an abstract Constitutional issue; if confirmed, Judge Alito would be ruling on two Clean Water Act cases now pending before the Supreme Court on whether this same Constitutional provision -- the Commerce Clause -- gives Congress the authority to protect any of America's streams and wetlands (U.S. v. Rapanos and U.S. v. Carabell). This same philosophy could also eventually jeopardize all of the environmental laws that protect clean air, clean water, endangered species and more.

Judge Alito has also ruled (in Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium Elektron) that the Constitution barred citizens from enforcing the Clean Water Act even against a company that admitted it had been violating the law for years. The Magnesium Elektron decision threatened to effectively put a stop to most Clean Water Act enforcement. Fortunately, the Supreme Court effectively reversed this decision three years later in another case.

Sierra Club, in coordination with our fellow environmental groups and the Coalition for a Fair & Independent Judiciary, will be mobilizing its members around the country to call on their Senators to vote no on Alito's confirmation. Senators from both political parties must take this responsibility seriously and not be a rubber stamp for the President's choice.

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