Right-Wing Legal Activists Sutton and Cook Set For Appeals Court Confirmation Hearings

Reports Document Troubling Records of Nominees Appearing Before Senate Judiciary Committee on January 29

People For the American Way today released detailed analyses of the records and legal philosophies of Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook, among the first Bush administration appeals court nominees scheduled for confirmation hearings before the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee on January 29. PFAW urged Senators to examine carefully both nominees’ records and to protect Americans’ rights and liberties by refusing to confirm them to lifetime positions on the appeals court.

“Jeffrey Sutton believes that the Constitution does not permit Congress to enact any law to protect religious freedom, free speech, or any other provision of the Bill of Rights against improper state action,” said Neas. “That extremist position places Sutton far out of the mainstream of American legal tradition and thought. It’s frightening to think that he is so close to being able to put his radical views into action as a powerful appeals court judge.”

Neas pointed out that as a lawyer and legal activist, Sutton has repeatedly urged the Supreme Court to radically restrict the federal government’s ability to enforce American’s civil rights, arguing, for example, that Congress has no authority to protect the rights of people with disabilities against discrimination by state agencies.

“Jeffrey Sutton is one of the nation’s most aggressive advocates for an extremist states’ rights approach to the Constitution,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “He has fully supported the new states’ rights doctrine being pushed by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and he has urged the Court to go even further in eroding the ability of the federal government to protect both individual rights and provide for the common good in areas like environmental protection. That is why hundreds of national, state, and local organizations are opposing his confirmation.”

Neas said that Ohio Supreme Court Justice Deborah Cook has staked out a position at the extreme right of that court, frequently arguing for positions rejected by the court majority as contrary to the plain language of the law in order to achieve a desired result.

“In one opinion after another, Deborah Cook has tried to stretch the law in ways that protect powerful interests at the expense of ordinary Americans who turn to the courts for justice,” Neas said. “She urged the court, for example, to uphold a law making it virtually impossible for workers to obtain damages from their employers for injuries caused by intentional misconduct by the companies. Americans don’t need that unfair approach to judging on the powerful federal appeals court.”

Neas noted that Cook’s confirmation is opposed by many home-state organizations for her record in the areas of equal opportunity, fairness, and worker safety. People For the American Way’s report on Cook focuses on dissenting opinions in which she has argued for positions that would undermine the interests, rights, and liberties of individual Americans.

Neas said that Sutton and Cook are unfortunately all too typical of President Bush’s appeals court nominees, many of whom would turn back the clock on civil rights, environmental protection, reproductive rights and privacy, religious liberty, worker safety and health, and other issues that affect Americans’ daily lives.

“The federal appeals courts have the final word in more than 99 percent of the cases they deal with,” said Neas. “They are the courts of last resort for virtually all Americans. Senators have a constitutional duty to carefully examine every nominee. And they have an obligation to the American people to entrust these powerful lifetime positions only to nominees who have demonstrated that they are willing to uphold Americans’ rights and freedoms. Jeffrey Sutton and Deborah Cook do not meet that standard.”

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