Reports on Rehnquist's Health Remind Nation of Crucial Election Issue

News organizations reported today that Chief Justice Rehnquist was treated for thyroid cancer this past weekend and is expected to return to the bench within a week. People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas released the following statement:

We wish Chief Justice Rehnquist a full and speedy recovery and are pleased to hear that he is expected to return to work shortly.

Chief Justice Rehnquist, who has previously been considered among the likely candidates for retirement during the next presidential term, has served on the Supreme Court for 32 years. The length of his tenure illustrates that this presidential election is about more than the next four years -- it is about shaping the direction of the Supreme Court, and our rights and freedoms, for the next 40 years.

The New York Times has reported that President Bush recently told a group of major donors that if elected he would have an opportunity to name a new justice shortly after his inauguration, and as many as four during his next term. President Bush is talking to his base about those nominees, but not to the American public. We think it is extremely important that all Americans understand how a Court with multiple Bush nominees could reverse many of the gains America has made in civil rights, environmental protection, religious liberty, reproductive freedom, and so many other vital areas of American life.

President Bush has called Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas his models for future nominees. These are the most extreme and aggressively activist far-right justices now on the bench - even further to the right than the very conservative Chief Justice Rehnquist. A Supreme Court with additional far-right justices like Scalia and Thomas would be a disaster for the Constitution - and for Americans’ rights and freedoms.

This is not just about privacy and reproductive choice - though Scalia and Thomas are eager to overturn Roe v Wade and its recognition of a constitutional right to privacy. This is also about radically restricting the Voting Rights Act to exempt, for example, state nominating conventions and judicial elections. It is about stripping Congress of the constitutional authority to protect Americans’ drinking water and other environmental resources. It is about dismantling protections against religious coercion by government officials. It is about eliminating remedies for Americans victimized by abusive employers or government agencies. It is about rolling back basic legal equality for gay and lesbian Americans.

We’re talking about real harm to real people for a real long time - remember, the president who put William Rehnquist on the Supreme Court was elected in 1968!

If President Bush is able to create a far-right majority on the Supreme Court, Americans’ rights and legal protections could be undermined for an entire generation.

No matter what their views on particular issues, all American should understand the importance of the Supreme Court as they prepare to vote on November 2.

Supreme Court Important to Voters

Neas noted that a recent Time Magazine poll (Time, 10/15/04) reported that 86 percent of people surveyed said that appointments to the Supreme Court over the next four years are either very important (59%) or somewhat important (27%) to their voting decision. When asked whether the issue of Supreme Court appointments would make them more likely to vote for Bush or Kerry, 38% percent said it would make them more likely to vote for Bush and 43% that the issue would make them more likely to vote for Kerry.

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