Ending an historically bitter confirmation process, the GOP-controlled Senate approved Brett Kavanaugh's nomination to the Supreme Court on Saturday, assuring a 5-4 conservative majority that is likely to have broad implications for environmental regulations and other issues important to agriculture.
President Trump promptly signed Kavanaugh's commission aboard Air Force One on the way to a rally in Kansas, and Kavanaugh, 53, was sworn in at the Supreme Court by Chief Justice John Roberts while Kavanaugh's wife and two young daughters looked on. (Supreme Court photo above.)
“He’s going to be there for a long term,” Trump said of Kavanaugh after landing in Kansas. “He’s an outstanding intellect, an outstanding scholar … brilliant in everything he’s ever done.”
The final Senate roll call was devoid of the drama that had surrounded the nomination for weeks. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced on Friday that they would vote for Kavanaugh, assuring him of confirmation. Kavanaugh supporter Steve Daines, R-Mont., missed the vote Saturday to attend his daughter's wedding, but the two-vote margin in favor of the nomination was preserved when Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, initially voted no but then withdrew her vote as a courtesy to Daines so that he didn't have to return to Washington to vote.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told Agri-Pulse that a 5-4 conservative majority could provide the country with "durable solutions" to regulatory disputes. "When the Supreme Court ... is going to make those decisions and have them lasting it really matters."
After the vote, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on her Twitter feed, "Instead of a 6-3 liberal Supreme Court under Hillary Clinton, we now have a 5-4 conservative Supreme Court under President @realDonaldTrump, cementing a tremendous legacy for the President and a better future for America."
Industry groups had been eagerly awaiting Kavanaugh's confirmation. In his 12 years as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he has generally been skeptical of according federal agencies deference under what is known as the Chevron doctrine. Under Chevron, courts must defer to agencies’ interpretation of the statute – such as the Clean Water Act – if the statute does not directly address the issue in question and the agency’s interpretation is not unreasonable.
“Judge Kavanaugh has a strong record of keeping federal regulatory agencies within their statutory limits,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said when his nomination was announced. “His opinions reflect a jurist who has thought carefully about federal statutes and America’s broader regulatory structure.”
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At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh tried to tamp down concerns about his position on government rules.
“I’ve heard it said that I’m a skeptic of regulation. I’m not a skeptic of regulation at all,” he said. “I’m a skeptic of unauthorized regulation, of illegal regulation, of regulation that is outside the bounds of what the laws passed by Congress have said.”
Environmental groups, however, have strongly criticized Kavanaugh’s record in cases involving the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act and other laws. An analysis by William Snape III, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, found that Kavanaugh ruled “against wildlife” 96 percent of the time.
And the environmental law firm Earthjustice, in an analysis of Kavanaugh decisions involving EPA regulations, found that Kavanaugh ruled for “less clean air and water” 89 percent of the time.
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