Opposition to Some of Today’s Nominees Likely
People For the American Way expressed deep concern today for the future of the judiciary in the wake of President Bush’s newly announced nominations to lifetime seats on the federal courts. Of the 11 names released today for U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies around the country, nine appear to be staunchly conservative. In line with statements supporting ideological court-packing he made on the campaign trail, George W. Bush seems to have used his first opportunity to select mostly jurists who could be expected to move the courts solidly to the right.
PFAW is calling on the Senate to deliberate on each nominee carefully and to hold each nominee to the highest standards, in order to uphold the integrity and independence of the federal judiciary. PFAW will make no announcement opposing confirmation of any particular nominee or nominees until thorough research on each prospective judge is conducted.
"This slate of candidates appears to have been packaged to push the envelope far to the right," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way. "It’s ironic that this group has already been noted for its diverse physical characteristics, like gender and race. What’s really troubling is their near uniformity of ideology."
Neas continued, "Though these nominees are almost homogeneous in their ultraconservative beliefs, each one’s qualifications must be carefully and individually reviewed, a task that, unfortunately, the president has made more difficult by terminating the American Bar Association’s official pre-nomination review of potential judges. The burden of proof should be on each nominee to show that he or she is qualified to be entrusted with safeguarding Americans’ civil rights, individual liberties, and privacy, and respects the constitutional role Congress plays in protecting these rights."
Leading up to today’s action by the president, People For the American Way has appealed to the Senate to resist any pressure from any source to rush its review and deliberations over each and every nominee.
"There must be no rush to judges," Neas has maintained. "It’s up to the Senate to protect the integrity and independence of the federal judiciary, and there is more at stake in these nominations than ever before in our history."
For years, the far right has made no secret of its desire to fill vacancies on the bench with judges who share an extreme ideology that is hostile to many fundamental constitutional and civil rights and is exemplified on the Supreme Court by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The Senate’s insistence that judicial nominees demonstrate a firm commitment to broad principles of equality and individual rights and an abiding respect for the Constitution is especially important when it’s considering those nominated to the Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals. Today’s nominees will serve on various federal appellate courts, if confirmed.
While a hard-right shift on the Supreme Court would be disastrous, Neas emphasized that the Supreme Court is not the only court to worry about. He noted that a flood of right-wing nominations to the lower courts poses as great, if not strictly as broad a threat as a rightward shift on the Supreme Court would.
"Although the Supreme Court has the final word and an increase in the far-right Scalia-Thomas voting bloc would be a catastrophe, most cases never make it to the Supreme Court but are decided by District Courts and the Court of Appeals," Neas explained. "That’s why it is crucially important that the senators treat today’s nominations with the greatest seriousness and care."
Long before Bush was even a candidate for the presidency, the far right set the stage for the attempted takeover of the courts now facing the nation. Ultraconservatives in the Senate leadership constructed a virtual blockade of Clinton judicial nominations to maximize their opportunity, in the event that one of their own would take the White House. The Republican leadership’s obstruction of nominations paid off when George W. Bush took office with nearly 100 federal court vacancies to fill.
Ultra-right commentators like televangelist Pat Robertson have been talking openly about their hopes for filling court vacancies with judges who will give the results they have been hoping for – rulings against a woman’s right to choose, against the separation of church and state, and against other key civil rights and constitutional liberties. While Robertson sees this as the moment of opportunity, he has also warned his followers that haste is important because, with a 50-50 split in the Senate, one retirement could shift control to the Democrats. For example, on April 26 Robertson told his "700 Club" viewers:
"But also, while there’s some euphoria around there with the first 100 days and all that kind of thing, its time to get the job done in a hurry before opposition builds against him. And if he puts a huge group, bingo, right across, the chances of building opposition against any one will be somewhat slight. And, none of these are Supreme Court justices so it would lessen the intensity of the rhetoric."
"The right is trying to turn the courts into their political strike force, but the Senate owes its first allegiance to the American people and to the Constitution," said Neas. "It is absolutely crucial that, for the good of the country, the senators turn aside the far right’s campaign to cram our courts with ultraconservative ideologues."