O'Connor Resignation a Critical Moment for Constitution, Crucial Test for President Bush and Senate

Replacement for pivotal Justice O’Connor will have ‘monumental impact on Americans’ lives and freedoms’

The Supreme Court vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is “a critical moment for the Constitution and a crucial test for President Bush,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas today. “Justice O’Connor has been the most important figure on the Court in recent years,” said Neas. “Her replacement will have a monumental impact on the lives and freedoms of Americans for decades to come.”

Neas called on President Bush to consult with Senators from both parties to identify a consensus nominee, and to reject the demands of far-right leaders for an aggressively activist ideologue who would ensure a divisive confirmation battle.

“When Ronald Reagan was faced with his first Supreme Court vacancy, he chose Sandra Day O’Connor, a consensus conservative nominee who became one of the most respected members of the Court,” said Neas. “When Bill Clinton faced Court vacancies, he reached across the aisle to Senator Orrin Hatch to identify nominees who could win broad bipartisan support.”

“Most Americans want Supreme Court justices who are fair and independent and are selected with the support of Senators from both parties,” said Neas. “Unfortunately, that’s not what radical right leaders want. They have control of the White House and both houses of Congress, and they want to control the Supreme Court. They want unchecked power. But Americans understand that our democracy works best when no one party has absolute power.”

Radical right leaders have viciously attacked O’Connor, as well as conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy, because only a far-right ideologue will satisfy their demands for a Supreme Court that will advance their political agenda and undermine Americans’ legal and constitutional protections.

Neas noted that while Justice O’Connor frequently sided with her even more conservative colleagues, especially on a series of states’ rights rulings, she also authored a historic 5-4 decision upholding upholding affirmative action in higher education, and has consistently upheld the narrow majority defending a constitutional right to privacy and reproductive choice.

Neas called on President Bush to consult with senators of both parties and select a nominee who is committed to protecting Americans’ privacy and civil rights and preserving the social justice gains of the last 70 years. Neas also called on senators to take whatever time is needed to provide the careful and independent review that the Constitution requires of any nominee to the nation’s highest court.

Neas said it is “deeply troubling” that Bush has said the models for his Supreme Court nominees would be the Court’s most far-right justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and that a number of Bush’s appeals court nominees have been right-wing ideologues in the Scalia-Thomas mold.

“Replacing Justice O’Connor with another Justice Scalia would be a disaster for civil rights, privacy, and the rights of individuals to be protected against abuse by government or corporate power,” said Neas. “In the coming weeks the President and Senate will decide whether we have a Supreme Court that will preserve the social justice achievements of the 20th Century, or whether we will retreat to a 19th Century interpretation of the Constitution, with individual rights given far less protection against state power and corporate irresponsibility. The American people must be part of this great debate over our future.”

As People For the American Way Foundation recently documented in Courting Disaster, Justices Scalia and Thomas are eager to have the Court reverse gains in civil rights, environmental protection, privacy and reproductive rights, separation of church and state, and more. In fact, a Scalia-Thomas majority on the Court could overturn more than 100 Supreme Court precedents going back to the New Deal.

Neas said that People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation have already been working to educate Americans about the importance of the Court and the next nominee with a national grassroots organizing and public education campaign.

Neas noted that this is the first of several Supreme Court vacancies likely in the next few years.

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