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A former Interior Department lawyer opposed by environmentalists and American Indian tribes is the first of President Bush’s judicial nominees to face a confirmation fight this year. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who handled nomination matters in his previous job as White House counsel, said Monday he wanted to end the impasse before a president’s choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy gets caught up in it. “It is imperative that this broken process be fixed before we arrive at that point,” Gonzales said in a speech in Washington. Democrats blocked William G. Myers III in 2004 from a seat on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Bush renominated him in mid-February, along with nine other appeals court nominees previously blocked by Senate Democrats. The GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, which approved Myers’ nomination on a party-line vote last year, planned a confirmation hearing Tuesday. Republicans are pledging to get Myers’ nomination through the full Senate this time. The committee’s new chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, said he counts 58 votes for Myers, only two away from a filibuster-proof margin. “A number of senators have said there ought to be balance, and the 9th Circuit’s a very liberal circuit,” Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday on CNN’s “Late Edition.” Democrats have promised to try to stall Bush’s nominees again if lawmakers believe the president’s picks are too conservative. On Monday, tribal and environmental groups urged continued opposition to Myers’ selection. “As a solicitor, Myers was very lopsided in his favoritism for the mining interests. He was unable to be impartial,” Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, said at a news conference with the National Wildlife Federation. The 9th Circuit oversees nine Western states, which cover 75 percent of the nation’s Indian tribes. Myers, now a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, represented mining and cattle interests before serving as the Interior Department’s top lawyer from 2001-2003. Opponents contend his past writings and decisions suggest he would side with those interests as a judge. The tribes’ main complaint is a decision Myers made at the department that opened the way for a gold mine in California that they say threatens Indian lands. He also once wrote that environmental groups are “mountain biking to the courthouse as never before, bent on stopping human activity wherever it may promote health, safety and welfare.” During his Judiciary Committee hearing last year, Myers said he sometimes used “a poor choice of words” and apologized for being occasionally “bombastic.” Republicans have praised him as a talented lawyer and mainstream thinker. “Mr. Myers is a well-qualified nominee whose record and experience would be an asset on the 9th Circuit,” said Justice Department spokesman John Nowacki. GOP senators are hoping that Myers can get some Democratic support. Democratic Sens. Joseph Biden of Delaware and Ben Nelson of Nebraska joined with Republicans last July to break the filibuster on his nomination. Bush renominated 20 appeals court and district court nominees in February. Among them were 10 previously blocked by Democrats and others who never got confirmation hearings. Democrats confirmed 204 of the president’s other nominees. Next in line for a hearing after Myers is Terrence W. Boyle, a former aide to retired Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C. Boyle did not get a confirmation hearing during Bush’s first term. Boyle is nominated to the Richmond, Va.-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is scheduled to have a committee hearing Thursday. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.

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