updated 2/6/2004 9:57:44 AM ET 2004-02-06T14:57:44

Senate Democrats on Thursday questioned an appeals court nominee about his past opposition to environmental regulations and sought assurances he would not pursue an anti-environmental agenda from the bench.

William Myers III countered that he has averaged 12 days a year volunteering in the nation’s parks and sometimes took the side of environmentalists while the top attorney at the Interior Department from 2001-2003.

“That in my opinion is the kind of example that you need to consider as you’re deliberating whether I would disregard statutory mandates or congressional authority. I’m here to tell you that I would not,” Myers said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Responded Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.: “That’s my dilemma to figure that out, because I could not vote for you to be a judge based on the views you’ve expressed in your writing.

Myers, a lawyer in Boise, Idaho, is the president’s choice to join the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court, based in San Francisco, has jurisdiction over nine Western states.

Myers, 48, faces opposition from environmental, civil rights, American Indian and women’s organizations.

Criticized California law
Critics cite actions he took as Interior Department solicitor, including opening the way for a gold mine to be built in Imperial County, Calif., that was opposed by his predecessor as potentially harmful to public lands.

Myers has written articles comparing federal management of public lands with “the tyrannical actions of King George” and has criticized the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, which Feinstein wrote, as “an example of legislative hubris.”

Feinstein told Myers the act protected 7.7 million acres of California wilderness and created two national parks.

“There are times when I’ve written things which looking back on them at times were probably a poor choice of words,” Myers said. “That was bombastic ... so accept that apology please.”

But he said he was responding to concerns from California ranchers in criticizing the act.

Republican, ABA backing
Myers has received a qualified rating from the American Bar Association’s judicial screening committee. Republicans on the Senate committee praised him.

“His record as solicitor shows balance and mainstream decision-making,” said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Myers was also questioned about an ethics investigation that determined he did not violate government ethics rules by meeting with groups interested in grazing and mining rights while he was solicitor. Environmental groups had complained to the Office of Government Ethics about the meetings.

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