Green machine ready to back White House in nominee brawl

By Robin Bravender | 03/15/2016 07:55 AM EDT

Green groups are mounting a broad push to help the Obama administration excoriate Republicans’ staunch opposition to advancing a Supreme Court nominee.

Green groups are mounting a broad push to help the Obama administration excoriate Republicans’ staunch opposition to advancing a Supreme Court nominee.

Big environmental groups have already prodded Senate leaders to hold hearings and a vote on President Obama’s eventual pick, and they’re planning to keep that pressure on, using social media, grass-roots organizing, press events and targeted messages to lawmakers.

"This is a big deal to us," said John Coequyt, director of climate campaigns at the Sierra Club. "I think you can expect a very coordinated effort by the environmental community," he said, "to push the Republicans to hold hearings and actually engage in the debate."


For environmentalists — as with other advocacy groups — the fight to potentially tip the ideological balance of the Supreme Court for decades has skyrocketed to one of the most important issues this election year. The fate of major environmental policies like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan and Clean Water Rule, in addition to countless other current and future regulations, could be determined by the next justice. As Obama prepares to announce his nominee as soon as this week, green groups are focusing their efforts on hammering Republicans for their refusal to budge.

"We think the Republican obstructionism is outrageous and unwarranted," said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They’ve made it even more illegitimate by some senators talking about blocking justices because of issues like the Clean Power Plan, and we’re going to be pushing strongly and actively to have the Senate give whomever the president nominates their due consideration."

Before the nominee’s rollout, the Sierra Club and its allies called on senators to "do your job" by holding a hearing on an Obama Supreme Court nominee. The group generated more than 77,000 messages to senators in a day, according to Sierra Club spokesman Trey Pollard. The club has also organized a "day of action" when members organized press events regarding the vacancy and members held events outside of Senate district offices in an effort to put pressure on potentially vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election, including Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Greens are seizing the opportunity to join forces with other liberal groups like labor unions and civil rights advocates. "It’s exciting to see so many people aligning collectively for one purpose," said Courtney Hight, director of the Sierra Club’s Democracy Program.

Seth Stein, a spokesman for the League of Conservation Voters, said the group has already begun "planning our campaign and engaging our members more aggressively than past nominations." LCV has "already started to engage our 1.3 million members, reach out to Congress directly and talk to coalition partners about amplifying the message that it is critical for the Senate to do their job and move the constitutional process along," he said.

Sticking to ‘do your job’ message

For now, expect the environmental groups’ messaging to remain targeted on what they view as the Senate’s duty to consider Obama’s nominee. Greens aren’t yet committing to supporting the forthcoming nominee’s environmental record, although they’re expected to be generally supportive of Obama’s eventual pick.

"I am absolutely sure that there is unanimous and united and very strong and active support within the environmental community for the need for a nomination, the need for a hearing on the nominee and the need for a vote on the nominee," said Glenn Sugameli, a staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife who heads a project that keeps tabs on nominees to federal courts.

"The members of environmental groups understand how important the federal courts are for upholding and enforcing environmental law," Sugameli said. Still, he added, interest groups will delve into the eventual nominee’s record once Obama’s choice is announced. Among the candidates rumored to be in the running, "I don’t see real issues arising," he said.

The White House had reportedly narrowed its list of potential nominees to three federal judges by Saturday. According to Reuters, the three remaining contenders were Judges Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and Paul Watford of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (E&E Daily, March 14).

White House spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday declined to give any more details about when a nomination will be announced.

Greens aren’t the only ones looking to influence the nomination fight. Some energy interests are pushing members and lawmakers from the other side, urging the Senate to hold off on advancing an Obama nominee.

The Washington, D.C.-based conservative group American Energy Alliance is preparing to work "with local partners and to educate folks in the states about what’s on the line here," said Hubbel Relat, the group’s general counsel.

The group has already blogged about why the vacancy shouldn’t be filled until after the November elections, and it’s planning further outreach to supporters using social and digital media.

"The person who fills that seat really should be the next president," Relat said.