Regarding the Civil Rights Agenda of George Bush, Trent Lott, Senate Republican Leaders, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia

Statement of Ralph G. Neas, President, People For the American Way

Remarks delivered at the National Press Club, December 20, 2002

Good Morning!

I appreciate the opportunity to present the views of People For the American Way, a national organization of 600,000 members and activists. I have been asked at this press conference to address the issue of the Supreme Court.

The extraordinary events of the past two weeks have generated an opportunity to have the type of national debate that this nation desperately needs. What exactly are the real civil rights agenda and the judicial philosophy of the Bush administration and Republican senators?

This debate is urgently needed because the Republican Party’s civil rights problem is far broader and deeper than Trent Lott – and because the next 12 to 24 months could determine the law of the land for the next several decades. And if George Bush and Senate Republican leaders get their way – not just Trent Lott, but all the other contenders – they could turn back the clock on half a century of legal and constitutional protections.

Many Americans may not know that it has been more than eight years since the last Supreme Court vacancy, the longest interval between vacancies since 1823, 179 years ago. Over the next several years, we could have multiple vacancies, comparable to the four vacancies between 1969 and 1972 and the five vacancies between 1987 and 1994.

Many Americans also do not realize that President Bush, Trent Lott, and other Republican leaders have embraced the “states’ rights” judicial philosophy of Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two most conservative Supreme Court members

What would be the consequences if George W. Bush created a Scalia-Thomas Supreme Court majority? Two years ago, People For the American Way Foundation examined every dissent and concurring opinion of Justices Scalia and Thomas. The study found that if there were one or two more justices in the mold of Scalia and Thomas, more than 100 Supreme Court precedents would be overturned.

A Scalia-Thomas Supreme Court majority would, among other things:

  • gut the Voting Rights Act and abolish affirmative action and other remedies that undo the effects of past and present discrimination;
  • eliminate a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom and privacy;
  • dismantle vital environmental protections for clean water and clean air;
  • tear down the wall separating church and state.

    While I believe the Bush-Scalia-Thomas “states’ rights” judicial philosophy is extreme and dangerous, I do not believe their commitment to it has anything to do with personal racial or gender bias. But their judicial philosophy would result in an America where it would be easier to discriminate and easier to segregate.

    The debate over the federal judiciary is part of an epic battle over the role of the federal government. The two-prong strategy of right-wing Republicans and the Bush administration is simple but breathtakingly radical.

    First, enact a permanent tax cut targeted primarily to the wealthiest Americans, which would eliminate $6 trillion in revenue over the next 20 years. That will in effect starve the federal government so it will be unable to fund many vital governmental functions performed since the New Deal.

    The second prong is to pack the federal judiciary with states’ rights ideologues whose judicial philosophy would turn back the clock on civil rights, environmental protections, religious liberty, reproductive rights and privacy and so much more.

    Take away the money. And then take away legal rights that have been part of our constitutional framework for 65 years.

    The American people deserve an opportunity to hear a national debate on George W. Bush’s judicial philosophy and his agenda. They have a right to know what is at stake before they wake up one morning in 2004 or in 2005 and discover that overnight they have lost fundamental rights, liberties, and protections, that they thought were theirs forever.

    Let the debate begin.

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