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Senate battle awaits Bush judicial nominee

WASHINGTON -- 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 yesterday that he wanted to end the impasse before a president's choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy becomes enmeshed 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 US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco. 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's nomination on a party-line vote last year, planned a confirmation hearing today.

Republicans are pledging to get Myers's nomination through the full Senate this time. The committee's new chairman, Senator 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 Ninth Circuit's a very liberal circuit," Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Sunday on CNN's ''Late Edition."

Democrats have promised to try to stall Bush's nominees if lawmakers believe the president's picks are too conservative. Yesterday, tribal and environmental groups urged continued opposition to Myers's 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 Ninth 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 to 2003. Opponents contend his past writings and decisions suggest he would side with those interests as a judge.

Republicans have praised him as a talented lawyer and mainstream thinker.

GOP senators are hoping that Myers can get some Democratic support. Democratic Senators Joseph R. Biden of Delaware and Ben Nelson of Nebraska joined with Republicans in 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.

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