On July 6, the Senate will vote on the federal district court nomination of J. Leon Holmes to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. Holmes’ statements and writings reveal that he has been a zealous opponent of reproductive freedom and women’s equality. In fact, Holmes’ record is so troubling that a number of pro-choice Republican senators may be prepared to break the record to date of unanimous Republican support for President Bush’s judicial nominees. Even Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee – usually the most ardent defenders of Bush’s nominees – were not unanimous in endorsing Holmes’ confirmation. Instead, the nomination went to the floor without recommendation.
While Holmes’ supporters have been working to encourage a revisionist history of his views, his record speaks for itself. As we draw closer to a Senate vote, it is important that the public be made aware of the danger Holmes presents to important rights and freedoms cherished by most Americans.
Privacy and Reproductive Rights
The views expressed by Mr. Holmes about reproductive rights and other issues of critical importance to women are far outside any mainstream understanding of constitutional values. Incredible as it may seem, his anti-abortion rhetoric has compared pro-choice advocates to Nazis and abortion to slavery.
Mr. Holmes’ record over the past two decades shows him to be a hard-line anti-choice activist. He has served as president of Arkansas Right to Life, helped form the Pro-Life Educational Alliance in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and served as a Secretary for the Unborn Child Amendment Committee. After three attempts, the Committee passed an amendment to the state constitution that prohibits the use of public funds for abortion unless the woman’s life is in danger and declares that “[t]he policy of Arkansas is to protect the life of every unborn child from conception until birth, to the extent permitted by the Federal Constitution.” This amendment was later found to violate federal law because it lacked exceptions in cases of rape and incest.
Holmes is also a member of the Federalist Society, a group whose experts on abortion frequently advocate for the overturning of Roe v. Wade. (Federalist Society members are also among the most ardent proponents of a new “states’ rights” approach to the Constitution that is undermining the ability of Congress to protect individual rights and act on behalf of the common good.) Holmes has served as legal counsel for anti-choice groups in cases seeking to restrict reproductive freedom.
Holmes’ anti-choice activism extends far beyond involvement with organizations that work to eliminate a woman’s right to choose. Mr. Holmes has written repeatedly on the subject. He has stated that, “No issue of our time is more important, not the economy, not the deficit, not health care, not foreign policy, as important as those matters are. No other issue concerns our very soul.” He is unequivocal about his belief that a woman’s right to choose should not be protected, writing that abortion is “. . . the simplest issue this country has faced since slavery was made unconstitutional. And it deserves the same response.”
Under Holmes’ view of the Constitution, there is no place for the right to choose. He believes that “the Constitution was intended to reflect the principles of natural law” and has declared that both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey “constitutionalize the theory of moral relativism, which is the antithesis of natural law.”
As part of his crusade to criminalize abortion, Holmes has argued repeatedly in favor of granting personhood rights to fetuses. He has stated, “To continue our present policy is to give those persons in the womb no rights at all, not even the most minimal right, the right to life.” [emphasis added].
Dismissive of Women’s Interests and Equality
In contrast, Holmes has callously dismissed the rights of women seeking abortion. Indeed, in disregard of the facts, Holmes even minimized the situation of women who become pregnant as a result of rape, stating, “. . . concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami.” In fact, studies estimate that between 25,000 and 32,000 women each year become pregnant as a result of rape in the U.S., and about 50 percent of these pregnancies end in abortion.
Holmes has blamed the feminist movement for what he believes is the erosion of morality, including criticism of “artificial contraception.”
“It is not coincidental that the feminist movement brought with it artificial contraception and abortion on demand, with recognition of homosexual liaisons soon to follow. . . . No matter how often we condemn abortion, to the extent we adopt the feminist principle that the distinction between the sexes is of no consequence and should be disregarded in the organization of society and the Church, we are contributing to the culture of death.”
In the same article written with his wife, he stated that “… the wife is to subordinate herself to her husband.”
Holmes’ record and extreme views about the role of women and other subjects will make it impossible for many who come before him to believe they will get a fair hearing.
Many groups supporting women’s rights and reproductive freedom oppose Holmes’ confirmation. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, also oppose Holmes’ confirmation. A May 1, 2003 LCCR letter to Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch cites articles in which Holmes dismissed concerns about racial disparities in the imposition of the death penalty and seemed to “regard favorably” Booker T. Washington’s “opposition to efforts to gain rights for African Americans when those efforts might exacerbate racial antagonism..” The LCCR letter says Holmes’ views “raise serious questions about his ability to rule fairly and impartially on issues such as school desegregation, voting rights and affirmative action.”
The Senate’s Responsibility
The Senate’s constitutional co-equal role with the President in confirming federal judges requires that Senators take seriously the consequences of confirming nominees to powerful lifetime positions on the federal bench. Senators must reject nominees whose records do not demonstrate a commitment to upholding constitutional principles and individual liberties.
Leon Holmes is not the first right-wing ideologue not appropriate for a federal judgeship who has been nominated by President Bush in his efforts to shift the federal judiciary far to the right.
But his is a particularly troubling nomination. Holmes’ views about reproductive freedom and women’s roles would make his appointment to the federal bench a particularly offensive insult to American women. The Senate should reject the nomination of James Leon Holmes to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.