News Analysis

If John Roberts is confirmed as chief justice of the Supreme Court, replacing William Rehnquist, he has a chance at heading the court for the rest of most baby boomers’ lives and much of Generation Xers’ as well.

Roberts, 50, is a well-known legal servant of the far right and corporate America. He held appointments in both the Reagan and Bush I administrations. He applied his brains to finding legal loopholes around environmental protection, women’s rights, civil and voting rights, separation of church and state, and right to privacy.

Roberts cut his legal teeth during the far right’s ascendancy to power in national politics. He is a cadre of the 1980s “Reagan Revolution,” an era that ushered in a new assault on the role of government, corporate regulation, separation of powers, “open” government and major underpinnings of democracy like racial and gender equality, union rights and public education.

Senate hearings on the Roberts’ nomination began this week, postponed only a few days in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The Bush administration’s goal is to drive the nomination through by the time the high court’s session begins on Oct. 3.

Questions covered many topics, from equal opportunity and voting rights to post-9/11 civil liberties, abortion, Title IX, gay rights, property rights, secrecy, death penalty and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Unfortunately, not one question was asked on the infamous Bush v. Gore decision that put Bush into the White House in 2000.

Roberts wrote many briefs in support of the Reagan agenda as a legal gun-for-hire for the ultraconservatives. “I was articulating and defending the administration’s position,” he said to question after question. And each time it exposed how long the far right has pounded on, pushed back and eroded democratic rights.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called civil rights and racial equality the “overarching” issues facing the country, especially in the wake of Katrina. “The founders didn’t get it right,” he said, noting that we fought a Civil War over these issues, and the movement led by Dr. King called this nation to conscience on them.

Yet Roberts’ experience and framework for these critical issues are the legal arguments from the Reagan administration, which sought to weaken the Civil Rights Act of 1964 along with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. His record as a “corporate hatchet man” during private practice did nothing to expand his framework and experience in an egalitarian direction.

Most pundits assert Roberts will “sail through” the Senate, and that he is “brilliant” and “more than qualified.” So there is a feeling of fait accompli. To this one should heed the wise words of Albus Dumbledore, J.K. Rowlings’s Harry Potter character. Even in a losing battle, Dumbledore said, you have to fight, and fight again, for only then can evil be kept at bay. A coalition of forces, mainly women’s and civil rights groups, have mounted a “Vote no” campaign against Roberts.

This fight will set the stage for the next nominee and the battles under a possible Roberts’ court. The Bush administration has taken a body blow of immense proportions for their criminal and racist neglect toward the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Support for the war in Iraq has been eroding. Bush now faces the lowest public opinion numbers yet. Roberts represents right wing domination of the Supreme Court for the next 30 years. Democratic forces can’t hand that to them on a silver platter.

The mass movements for equality and democracy, the working class and its allies, have a big role to play. No matter how often they try to deny it, courts are influenced by both public opinion and especially mass pressure. Public opinion also influences lawyers and elected officials who would apply their knowledge and skills to fighting for democracy.

But in a certain sense, Roberts will be counting on the far right’s ground troops and legal eagles to bring cases to his court. Roberts promised a court in the vein of Rehnquist, which does not make progressive America hopeful. But, even worse, this is not the same time as when Rehnquist joined the court, or even when he became chief justice. It’s a far more dangerous time with the Bush administration and the most reactionary sector of the ruling class, as wounded as they are, wielding power and influence.

The political struggle to defeat the far right will have an impact on all parts of the government, including the judiciary. The 2006 elections are now coming on the horizon as the next battleground for that political struggle. The Roberts nomination highlights the necessity to take back Congress from the clutches of the far right.

Terrie Albano (talbano@pww.org) is editor of the People’s Weekly World.

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