Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Trump’s Judges:  A Second Front in the Environmental Onslaught

As the Trump administration keeps moving aggressively to roll back environmental protections, it has a potent legal weapon — the scores of federal judges that President Trump will be appointing, most of whom are expected to hold anti-regulatory, pro-business views.

The future status of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah may end up being determined in federal court. (Credit: Bob Wick/BLM) Click to Enlarge.
Lawyer Richard Ayres has been fighting for the environment in federal courts for nearly five decades, but he says he’s never seen an onslaught on basic environmental protections like the one coming out of the Trump White House.  Still, something scares Ayres even more than the determination of the Trump team to dismantle President Barack Obama’s climate change initiatives, shrink federally protected lands, weaken smog standards, scale back habitat for rare species, and expand drilling into the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

What most unnerves Ayres and other veteran environmental lawyers and legal experts is the unprecedented opportunity President Trump has to fill the federal judiciary with anti-regulatory, pro-business appointees.

Trump has far more openings to fill than previous presidents, and Democrats have far less power to block his nominees than the opposition party has had in the past.  And while Trump has trailed his predecessor in nominating officials for the executive branch, he has far outpaced recent presidents in selecting federal judges.  So far, he’s nominated 31 judges to fill 140 open slots out of the 890 federal judgeships.  By contrast, Obama had 54 openings for federal judges when he took office.

Not only will these judges potentially play a role in upholding Trump’s rollbacks of environmental protections, they likely will remain in their posts for decades after Trump leaves office.  Federal judges are appointed for life, and so far Trump’s appointees are younger on average than appointees of previous presidents.

“Trump is going to appoint a lot of judges that will change the complexion of the court system for a long time,” says Ayres, who has been a prominent environmental lawyer since 1970 and was one of the founders of the Natural Resources Defense Council.  “It very well could be the biggest impact he has on the environment.  Imagine another 10 percent of the judiciary filled with Trump appointees.  Environmental organizations will fight back and litigate and save some things, but there’s a whole lot of damage that will take forever to repair — if it’s repairable.”

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