Towering inferno

There is a good reason for the U.S. Senate to protect rules of debate on judicial nominees to federal courts: The people deserve to know what views are espoused by those who would help protect our constitutional rights.

For better or worse, confirmation hearings in the Senate are the place where one-sided arguments judged by politicians to be the prerogative of unconstrained power do not hold.

Consider the case of Steven Johnson, nominated by President George W. Bush to be the next chief of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The confirmation of Johnson—by all accounts a fine candidate—is being held up by Democrats in the Senate.

Although Johnson is not a judicial candidate, the connection between our Constitution, rules and regulations that guide the nation’s care for Creation and judicial nominees is very much to the point.
For two years, the EPA has refused to complete a routine request by Congress to provide a comparative analysis of costs and benefits of the Bush White House Clean Skies Initiative and an alternative bill its proponents believe better protects mothers and fetuses from mercury poisoning and the neurological impairments it can cause.

The Senate will not move Johnson forward until the EPA produces the long-awaited report. Down the length of U.S. history, two years may not seem a long period of time.

But since its inception, those who govern our republic have not waited for divine intervention or delayed their navigation in order to avoid the shoals that pop up regularly at bends in the river. One shoal rose up 25 years ago.

It happened on a night the sky above Elizabeth, N.J., caught fire.

In an area about the size of two football fields, more than 50,000 barrels of flammables and poisons, pharmaceutical and hospital waste, body parts, dioxin and other carcinogens went up in an uncontrolled explosion—a towering inferno.

The public revulsion helped to spur Congress to establish the Superfund and regulations intended to protect the health, welfare and safety of people and Creation.

Americans are increasingly aware that a key objective of the Bush White House is to rewrite protections of the New Deal, such as Social Security. What Americans are less aware of is that radical revisionists influencing the Bush administration want to take the nation even further backward, to an imagined Golden Age by changing, if not eliminating, the framework of protections—such as now required by the EPA according to federal laws—which they believe violate the original intent of the U.S. Constitution.
In upcoming confirmation hearings for the federal judiciary, the American people deserve to know how originalism—and judicial nominees who espouse its views—would help the citizens of Methuen, Mass., whose nightmare the framers of the U.S. Constitution could not have dreamt.

Methuen is the place where citizens have asked the state to investigate an unusual cluster of cancer cases and other severe neurological illnesses near contaminated industrial sites along the Spicket River.

The Boston Globereports, “It took the state more than two years to begin the cancer investigation because researchers are so backlogged with similar requests. There are now 41 communities waiting for similar cancer assessments.”

For anxious mothers and fathers, an hour is too long to wonder if their home, their drinking water or other factors they should be able to control could sicken their children. A minute is too long spent in a hospital with a dying child and doctors who can treat only the pain not the cause.

As for conservative judicial activists, that local regulations and private contracts between businesses and neighbors are better able to determine regional and community needs than state or federal authority all sounds good. The Khmer Rouge of Cambodia also believed in returning to a simpler time.

In days ahead, some people will be tempted by righteous indignation to attack those who support Senate debate in the confirmation of judicial nominees.

But don’t think of Terri Schiavo, who is not alive, without thinking about the citizens of Methuen, who are. Don’t think about the gift of life without thinking about whose right allows fetuses to be exposed to toxins. Don’t think about the deformed babies of Florida farm workers in Immokalee without also thinking of what happened in Elizabeth, N.J.

Today, the property where the explosion occurred is encircled by a cyclone fence, a blasted place whose topsoil was mixed with cement, a casket lid adjoining a wall of concrete poured from the top of its circumference to an impermeable layer of clay far beneath.

Nothing gets in and nothing gets out. It is sealed tight, the way those who want a new activist, conservative judiciary—without debate or even a fare thee well.

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