Nominee. Few hints so far of Miers' views. (Photo courtesy of White House
Photo/Paul Morse)

As the Supreme Court was set to open its fall term Oct. 3 under new Chief Justice John Roberts, observers from industry, labor unions and environmental groups were poised to look for early hints of how the "Roberts Court" will define itself. But not even two hours before the term formally began, President Bush threw a new variable into the equation, announcing he would nominate White House Counsel Harriet Miers to replace retiring Sandra Day O’Connor as an associate justice.

Bush said Miers, a former Dallas City Council member and State Bar of Texas president, "will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws" but would not legislate from the bench. Miers hasn’t been a judge, so court-watchers have no rulings to consult for signals of where she stands on key issues.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) pledged a thorough review of the nomination. He didn’t set a deadline for finishing the task, but said, "I would not expect it to go into the new year." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) didn’t say how he would vote, but noted, "I like Harriet Miers....A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the court."

There appear to be no major construction cases yet on the Supreme Court docket, industry attorneys say. But they add that petitions may reach the court this term to hear environmental and labor relations cases now in lower courts.

On an early October list of such petitions are two Clean Water Act cases, U.S. v. Rapanos and Carabell v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, that center on the question, "What’s a navigable water?" says Duane Desiderio, National Association of Home Builders staff vice president for legal affairs. He says that definition determines Corps and Environmental Protection Agency permitting jurisdiction. The court’s 2001 Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County ruling set Corps permitting limits. Desiderio contends it "raised more questions than it answered." Since then, the court has turned down at least six petitions to clarify the 2001 decision. "We’ll see what they do with Carabell and Rapanos," he says.

For the Associated Builders and Contractors, the big issue nearing the court is local government "neutrality" on labor unions, says Maurice Baskin, general counsel to ABC. He says several cases are in appeals courts and expects the Supreme Court this term to be asked to take at least one. An underlying issue is the scope of the court’s 1993 "Boston Harbor" project labor agreement ruling. "I think the Supreme Court is going to have to step in to keep its earlier decision in Boston Harbor from being expanded beyond all bounds," he says.

GSA: Winstead Picked To Be Public Buildings Chief
David L. Winstead,former Maryland Dept. of Transportation secretary, has been named the new commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Public Buildings Service, the agency said Oct. 3. Winstead joins GSA from the law firm Holland & Knight LLP, where he was a partner in the real estate and public law departments. He led Maryland DOT from 1995 to 1998.

Winstead succeeds F. Joseph Moravec, who left Aug. 1 after four years at PBS. Winstead will oversee a program whose 2005 budget totaled $1.7 billion for new construction and renovations. "He’s very well respected in our region for his knowledge of land use and regional development," says Robert A. Peck, Greater Washington Board of Trade president and a former PBS commissioner.

Corps: Levee Work To Cost $1.6 Billion
Rebuilding New Orleans levees to withstand a Category 3 hurricane would cost about $1.6 billion, says the Army Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen. Carl Strock. The Corps of Engineers is sure it can reconstruct levees to pre-Hurricane Katrina strength by June 1, Strock told the House energy and water appropriations subcommittee on Sept. 28.

Strock also said a Corps preliminary estimate shows that upgrading levees for a Category 5 storm would cost $3 billion to $3.5 billion beyond the $1.6 billion.

If the White House seeks the $1.6 billion, energy and water Chairman David Hobson (R-Ohio) says, "I think probably I have to support that, because we need to get the city structurally back." But he adds, "Even with a Category’re going to have to make some accommodations for Mother Nature that we didn’t do before."

Spending: Stopgap Funds Agencies Through Nov. 18
Federal agencies were open Oct. 1, the start of fiscal year 2006, thanks to a continuing resolution enacted Sept. 30. The stopgap runs through Nov. 18, giving appropriators more time to wrap up unfinished 2006 bills. Only the Interior/environment and legislative branch measures have been signed. Conferees also agreed on the homeland security bill. The resolution funds programs at 2005 levels or the amount in the House or Senate-passed 2006 bills, whichever is lowest.

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski