Engler's Judges Initiative Downsized but Not Outsourced

Effort to Tether NAM to Right Wing Nominees Still Poses a Threat

At a Wednesday press conference that was more remarkable for what wasn’t said, National Association of Manufacturers president John Engler announced his organization’s endorsement of President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, John G. Roberts.

“This didn’t come as a surprise given Engler’s background,” said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. “He’s long been a Bush partisan, and he sits on the board of an organization created at the behest of Karl Rove to bolster Bush’s right wing judicial nominees.”

In early January, Engler announced that judicial nominations would be among NAM’s top priorities for the first time. He vowed to launch a multimillion-dollar campaign to back Bush’s plan to pack the federal judiciary with ultraconservative activist judges in the mode of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.

However, it seems that since then Engler has been reined in by NAM members and directors. Engler said Wednesday that NAM would not directly contribute to advertising around the current Supreme Court vacancy or work with the right wing organizations with which he is affiliated.

“It’s easy enough to understand why the initial plan was downsized,” said Neas. “It would have aligned the organization’s members with a controversial and divisive agenda that many of them do not share. For instance, many business leaders have been at the forefront of advancing equal opportunity and equality under the law – goals not shared by Bush’s more extreme judicial nominees.”

Engler has pushed ahead with a scaled down plan to back Roberts’ nomination. The NAM endorsement will allow him to employ the organization’s lobbying apparatus – not to mention its bully pulpit – on behalf of Roberts. This is in spite of recently disclosed public documents that paint a portrait of Roberts as a key lieutenant in efforts to roll back key civil rights and constitutional protections during the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations.

“Engler is betraying the commitment to social justice shared by many business leaders and needlessly pushing NAM into a confrontation with the civil rights community in order to further his own partisan agenda,” said Neas.

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