The ties that bind democracy, the courts and you

Opinion

“Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread,” said National Organization for Women (NOW) President Kim Gandy, at a press conference announcing a historic march on Washington for reproductive freedom, April 25, 2004, called by leading women’s rights groups. Hooray for these women’s groups for having the foresight to call for a national demonstration in an election year! What better way to change the atmosphere away from the far right’s fear-, war- and hate-mongering than a big, broad, unifying demonstration? Voter registration and education alone won’t defeat these guys. We have to have some mass demonstrations to help change that atmosphere.

We’re all in this together. The same guys that go after Roe v. Wade go after Iraq, labor, civil rights, affirmative action, voting rights, civil liberties and immigrants. In a nutshell, they go after “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The “thread” that Roe v. Wade hangs by is the tie that binds all of us who worry about the Bush administration’s power hungry grab for domination and unfettered exploitation. The old working-class folk-wisdom applies: an injury to one is an injury to all.

A semi-secret counterrevolution is going on in this country, in an area somewhat opaque for most of us. It’s attacking the “checks and balances” established by the American Revolution. It often uses code words, but those words can have an impact that will last for a generation. The area I’m talking about is the courts, and who gets nominated as a judge. The far-right Bush administration is working overtime to subvert our country’s legal structure and undo the Constitutional gains won in the last 100 years. Checks and balances – who needs them, they ask.

I keep getting e-mails from important organizations about opposing certain Bush nominations to various federal courts. And I keep thinking – how long can we keep this up? The Dems are holding tight on the Estrada filibuster, but there are probably enough right-wing nuts with a law degree to keep them busy indefinitely.

And just when you think the Bush administration can’t get any lower in its court nominees, it nominates William Pryor. Pryor is the Alabama attorney general whose unapologetic stance against American democratic values, won through good old-fashioned struggle, is shocking to say the least. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, American Association of People with Disabilities, People for the American Way and Planned Parenthood are just a few groups opposing Pryor’s nomination.

Civil rights, women’s reproductive rights, gay rights, separation of church and state, the Americans with Disability Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act – a Pryor appointment to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals would place these democratic measures at risk in cases originating in Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Pryor called Roe v. Wade the “worst abomination in the history of constitutional law,” and compared being gay to incest, necrophilia, pedophilia, prostitution and adultery. Put it this way – he’ll never be on your side.

He’s so far out in right field that even the Republican gay and lesbian group – Log Cabin Republicans – in a rare move, had to come out against this nomination.

With a nominee like that for the federal court, many Americans are very worried about a Bush nominee to the Supreme Court, already packed with right-wingers. Rumors have it one to two vacancies will be announced in the next months. This administration’s drive to change our basic legal structure by stacking the courts with far-right, pro-corporate ideologues is a big issue for the 2004 elections.

At the recent American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Presidential Town Hall meeting in Iowa, six prepared questions were posed to the candidates. They were on tax cuts for the rich; health care; funding for first-responders under Homeland Security; corporate greed and corporations that avoid taxes by locating off-shore; how they would resolve the states’ budget crises; and how they would use the bully pulpit to promote the right to organize.

Then the floor was opened for union members to ask their own questions. Delegates lined up at six floor microphones, many holding scraps of paper with their question jotted down. One woman, wearing a black shirt with red chili peppers on it (she was part of the delegation from New Mexico – and they all wore the same shirt), asked the presidential candidates about their views on Supreme Court nominees and the Justice Department’s erosion of the Constitution. This question sparked an incredible round of responses by the candidates – all of them very concerned about the far-right attacks on these underpinnings of our society. Concerns were raised about the Patriot Act, defense of Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, civil and immigrant rights.

The delegates responded with lots of applause to these answers. As it turned out, the Iowa focus group put together by the union rated this issue among the highest, along with health care.

Democracy and the courts – for the labor and people’s struggles it’s one to focus on.



Terrie Albano is associate editor of the People’s Weekly World. She can be reached at talbano@pww.org