Senate Urged To Demand Every Federal Court Nominee Meets Highest Standards

Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary at Stake

As the Bush administration prepares to begin rolling out dozens of nominations for lifetime appointments to the federal courts, People For the American Way is calling on the Senate to carry out its constitutional duty carefully, thoroughly and diligently and to resist any pressure from any source to rush its review and deliberations over each and every nominee.

"There must be no rush to judges," said People For the American Way’s President Ralph G. Neas. "It’s up to the Senate to protect the integrity and independence of the federal judiciary, and there is more at stake in these nominations than ever before in our history."

"For ultraconservatives in the Federalist Society and their allies in the political and religious right, including Republican leaders in the Congress, the federal courts are the key to rolling back decades of court rulings that protect every American’s fundamental constitutional and civil rights," Neas explained. "The right wing is making a dangerous power grab to remake the courts, and through them the country, in their own image, and only the Senate can stop it."

For years, the far right has made no secret of its desire to pack the courts with judges who share an extreme ideology that is hostile to many fundamental constitutional and civil rights and exemplified on the Supreme Court by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In light of George W. Bush’s troubling campaign statements that indicate his agreement with such ideological court-packing, PFAW is urging the Senate to require that judicial nominees, especially those nominated to the Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeal, demonstrate qualifications that include a firm commitment to broad principles of equality and individual rights and an abiding respect for the Constitution and for the constitutional duties of the Executive Branch and the Congress.

PFAW is urging the Senate to hold every nominee to the highest standards and to refuse to confirm any not proven by the administration to meet those standards. In addition, PFAW is urging the senators to resist any efforts to shortcut, speed up, or alter the Senate’s traditional process for meeting its constitutional duty or to permit Republican leaders to change procedural rules that they benefited from during the Clinton administration.

"The American people must be assured that judges who are given the solemn constitutional responsibility of protecting their rights and upholding their Constitution are unequivocally committed to justice and equality for all Americans," said Neas. "The far right is trying to put its thumb on the scales of justice, and it’s up to the Senate to make sure they don’t succeed."

The possibility of one or more retirements from the Supreme Court remains speculative. However, Neas noted that we are now experiencing the longest interval between Supreme Court appointments in 178 years, making the likelihood high that one or more vacancies will occur in the near future. How President Bush would seek to fill such a vacancy is not a matter of speculation. The President stated during his campaign that he would fill vacancies with justices who share the views of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Such a development would turn back the clock on some 100 Supreme Court key precedents, undoing fundamental constitutional and civil rights.

While a hard-right shift on the Supreme Court would be disastrous, Neas emphasized that the Supreme Court is not the only court to worry about. He noted that a flood of right-wing nominations to the lower courts poses as great, if not strictly as broad a threat as a rightward shift on the Supreme Court would.

"Although the Supreme Court has the final word and an increase in the far right Scalia-Thomas voting bloc would be a catastrophe, most cases never make it to the Supreme Court but are decided by District Courts and the Court of Appeals," Neas explained. "That’s why it is crucially important that the senators treat every single nomination with the greatest seriousness and care."

For months the right wing has been preparing to unleash a flood of nominees and clearing the way to rush them through the confirmation process. The White House took a major step, one long urged by the far right, when it removed the nonpartisan American Bar Association from its historic role of evaluating the qualifications of potential nominees. The ABA’s review has been effectively replaced by a panel of the far right Federalist Society, operating out of the White House and Justice Department to screen and propose candidates for lifetime seats on the courts.

Long before George W. Bush was even a candidate for the presidency, the far right set the stage for the attempted takeover of the courts now facing the nation. Ultraconservatives in the Senate leadership constructed a virtual blockade of Clinton judicial nominations to maximize their opportunity, in the event that one of their own would take the White House. The Republican leadership’s obstruction of nominations paid off when George W. Bush took office with nearly 100 federal court vacancies to fill.

Ultra-right commentators like televangelist Pat Robertson have been talking openly about their hopes for filling court vacancies with judges who will give the results they have been hoping for – rulings against a woman’s right to choose, against the separation of church and state, and against other key civil rights and constitutional liberties. While Robertson sees this as the moment of opportunity, he has also warned his followers that haste is important because, with a 50-50 split in the Senate, one retirement could shift control to the Democrats. For example, on April 26 Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers:

"But also, while there’s some euphoria around there with the first 100 days and all that kind of thing, its time to get the job done in a hurry before opposition builds against him. And if he puts a huge group, bingo, right across, the chances of building opposition against any one will be somewhat slight. And, none of these are Supreme Court justices so it would lessen the intensity of the rhetoric."

"The right is trying to turn the courts into their political strike force, and the Senate owes its first allegiance to the American people and to the Constitution," said Neas, "It is absolutely crucial that, for the good of the country, the senators must turn aside the far right’s campaign to pack the courts with ultraconservative ideologues."

Click here to read PFAW President Ralph G. Neas' op-ed on the judicial confirmation process.

Click here to read PFAW's edit memo on the blue slip policy changes.

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