WASHINGTON — Hours after President George W. Bush nominated John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court, fighters for human rights bombarded the Senate with demands that they reject him on grounds he is an enemy of women’s equality, labor rights and voting rights. Roberts’ nomination threatens to push the nation’s highest court further to the right for years to come, they said.
A number of Democrats and others are saying they refuse to be steamrollered into a quick approval process. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, “No nominee should be confirmed without full and candid disclosure,” especially a candidate like Roberts with sharp “ideological positions on issues important to the American people.”
The battle will come to a head in September when the Senate returns from a month-long recess.
“The Senate must not confirm this right-wing corporate attorney to the Supreme Court,” declared an e-mail message from MoveOn.org, the online activist group, urging recipients to sign an online petition urging senators to reject Roberts. “He opposed clean air rules and worked to help coal companies strip mine mountaintops,” the message continued. “He worked … to keep Congress from defending the Voting Rights Act. He wrote that Roe v. Wade should be ‘overruled.’”
As a federal appeals court judge, the message noted, Roberts recently joined in a unanimous ruling that the Geneva Conventions do not protect detainees at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The ruling effectively denied the detainees standard due process rights.
Women’s health and reproductive rights is shaping up to be a defining issue in the confirmation struggle. Kim Gandy, National Organization for Women president, told a Washington news conference that her organization will wage “a nationwide grassroots mobilizing campaign” to block Roberts. He “does not have a commitment to the basic values of fairness and equality and our hard-won rights will be in jeopardy if he is confirmed,” Gandy said. NOW press secretary Jenny Thalheimer told the World that the group’s grassroots campaign to block Roberts is already in high gear across the nation.
NOW charged that while serving as deputy solicitor general, Roberts wrote an amicus brief addressed to the Supreme Court arguing that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision upholding women’s abortion rights “was wrongly decided and should be overturned.”
In a case NOW brought against the fanatical anti-abortion Operation Rescue, Roberts wrote a brief arguing that the group’s violent blockades of abortion clinics were protected by free speech.
NARAL Pro-Choice America charged that during his tenure with the Reagan and first Bush administrations, Roberts “played an active role in efforts to abridge women’s rights and access to abortion services.” NARAL, too, quickly launched a petition campaign demanding that the Senate reject Roberts. The group described him as an “unsuitable choice … a divisive nominee with a record of seeking to impose a political agenda on the courts.”
Roberts’ record on equal opportunity and civil rights is also being assailed. In 2001, Roberts wrote a brief in Adarand v. Mineta supporting right-wing attempts to overthrow affirmative action. He also argued against Title IX of the U.S. Civil Rights Act which provides for equal rights for women in college athletic programs.
The Alliance for Justice released a detailed description of Robert’s role in the Reagan administration’s attempt to gut the Voting Rights Act. Roberts, then a deputy solicitor general in the Justice Department, wrote a brief arguing that civil rights groups should be required to prove “discriminatory intent” rather than “discriminatory effect” in determining if the Voting Rights Act had been violated. The Alliance pointed out that it is nearly impossible to prove “intent.”
Roberts has been squarely on the side of big business. As a corporate lawyer, he served as lead counsel for Toyota in Toyota Manufacturing v. Williams, in which he argued for limits on the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The case involved a woman fired by Toyota after being diagnosed with carpal tunnel syndrome injuries she sustained on the job. The court ruled for Toyota that the woman was not protected by the ADA.
Bush unleashed a full-court offensive backed by Senate Republicans to sell Roberts as a moderate marked by “fairness and civility.”
Wade Henderson, executive director of the labor-backed Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, debunked this. “Roberts is no mainstream judge,” he said. “He might well be another justice Scalia or Thomas.” Bush, he charged, “chose the politics of conflict and division over bipartisan consensus” in nominating Roberts.
Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said Roberts “has repeatedly refused to say whether he believes in a constitutional right to privacy or whether that right encompasses women’s right to choose. He has advanced legal positions that are hostile to women’s legal rights including Title IX.”
Sheldon Goldman, professor of politics at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, said Bush’s naming of Roberts is a “slap in the face to women and Hispanics.” When Sandra Day O’Connor steps down there will be only one woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, on the court. There are no Latinos on the high court.