By preparing to spend millions of dollars to help the White House pack the federal courts with judges who would reverse bipartisan social justice achievements of the past six decades, National Association of Manufacturers President John Engler is betraying the courage and commitment of those business leaders who have supported constitutional and civil rights protections.
“Over the past few decades, while there have been differences between the civil rights and business communities, many American business leaders have worked to advance the goals of equal opportunity and equality under the law,” said People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas. “For example, when the Bush administration urged the Supreme Court to eliminate affirmative action in higher education, many business leaders filed an important brief urging the Court to uphold carefully tailored affirmative action programs. The Court agreed, and upheld this important vehicle for promoting educational opportunity.”
“I believe that a sizable percentage of NAM’s membership would be stunned to learn that NAM’s leadership has decided to join the efforts of the right wing to eliminate a constitutional right to privacy, strong civil rights protections and a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. I hope that NAM members will resist Engler’s move to align the business community with this extraordinarily controversial and divisive agenda.”
Neas challenged Engler’s public statements discounting many of the issues that have been at the core of recent nominations controversies. “John Engler’s dismissive comments about civil rights and other social justice issues are deeply offensive,” said. Neas. “The federal courts have played a crucial role in moving our nation toward full equality. But with President Bush’s judicial nominees, rights and legal protections that Americans have fought so hard to achieve are at risk.”
Neas noted that despite Engler’s recent public assertion that judicial confirmations would be a top priority of the organization, the issue is not mentioned in the materials released this week announcing NAM’s legislative agenda for 2005.
“I have a hunch that Engler may be freelancing a bit on this,” said Neas. “It would surprise me if many business leaders, especially those with a commitment to social justice, would want to take such a step toward a bitter public confrontation with the civil rights community for the next four years. It doesn’t make sense.”
Neas noted that Engler has served as a board member of the Committee for Justice, created by former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray to promote confirmation of Bush judicial nominees.
Neas led the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, when business leaders were frequently part of bipartisan coalition efforts that strengthened many federal civil rights laws.