Greens Worried About Roberts’ Environmental Stance

No doubt, the Bush administration relished the opportunity to put a conservative judge by the name of John Roberts on the Supreme Court last month. And it is no surprise that environmentalists digging into Roberts’ stands in previous cases do not like what they are finding.

Supreme Court Justice Nominee John Roberts and President Bush.© Eric Draper

“He defers to economic interests over the public health, to executive agencies over the Congress, and to secrecy over the public’s right-to-know,” says Carl Pope, the Sierra Club’s executive director. “He’s always tweaking the facts to the benefit of insiders.”

The Sierra Club cites several examples, such as when Roberts helped the Reagan administration run damage control in the mid-1980s when its Environmental Protection Agency head refused to turn over documents to Congress about irregularities in oversight of the Superfund toxics mitigation program. Then in 1990, Roberts helped convince the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court ruling restricting mining operations due to concerns voiced by birdwatchers. Nine years later, when addressing the National Mining Association, Roberts offered up “several pointers” regarding how mining companies could get their views heard by judges. And in a 2003 California case, Roberts took a minority dissenting view regarding the protection of an endangered toad. In his opinion in the case, Roberts criticized “takings rules” that protect wildlife over development interests.

Regarding the latter example, Glenn Sugameli of the environmental law firm Earthjustice is concerned that Roberts might question “the constitutionality of important protections under the Endangered Species Act.” And while Roe v. Wade might be the litmus test people think of when considering Supreme Court nominees, it is possible that a Bush administration intent on gutting the Endangered Species Act has something a little more insidious in mind. Only time—and the Court’s docket—will tell.