WASHINGTON - January 31 - The Sierra Club praised those Senators who voted against Judge Alito's confirmation to the Supreme Court today. The group also expressed disappointment in those Senators who, by voting for confirmation, ignored the threat Judge Alito's philosophy poses to environmental protection. Unfortunately, Judge Alito was confirmed to a lifetime appointment by a final vote of 58-42.
"Judge Alito poses a serious threat to the environmental protections we cherish. We applaud those Senators who recognized that the ability to protect our clean air and clean water are at stake," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "Those Senators who voted for Judge Alito are putting hard-won protections at risk."
Sierra Club's opposition to Judge Alito's confirmation rested on his Constitutional philosophy, which threatens both the ability of Congress to pass laws to protect the environment, and the ability of citizens to enforce those laws. Judge Alito ruled (in Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) v. Magnesium
Elektron) that the Constitution barred citizens from enforcing the Clean Water Act even against a company that admitted it had been violating the law for years. The Magnesium Elektron decision threatened to put a stop to most Clean Water Act enforcement. Fortunately, the Supreme Court effectively reversed this decision three years later in another case.
In U.S. v. Rybar, Judge Alito dissented from a decision upholding Congress' power under the Commerce Clause to regulate the possession of machine guns Coming after six other federal appeals courts had upheld the same law, Judge Alito's reasoning is extremely troubling because it could translate into limits on Congress' authority to protect our water and air.
These seemingly abstract Constitutional issues will have significant consequences in the short term. Now that he has been confirmed, Judge Alito will be ruling on two Clean Water Act cases now pending before the Supreme Court and deciding whether this same Constitutional provision, the Commerce Clause, gives Congress the authority to protect any of America's streams and wetlands (US v. Rapanos and US v. Carabell). This same philosophy could eventually jeopardize all of the environmental laws that protect clean air, clean water, endangered species and more.