Defenders of the Bill of Rights warned that Senate votes to confirm Dennis Shedd and Michael McConnell to the Fourth and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeal is part of the Bush administration’s plan to pack the judiciary with ultra-rightists, turning back the clock on civil rights and civil liberties.

NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond, in an e-mail message, wrote, ‘The dam has been broken. The flood of unacceptable judicial nominees has begun. We have a long struggle ahead, demanding we redouble our efforts, build new alliances and strengthen old ones, and prepare for the worst while working for the best.’

Wade Henderson, executive director of the labor-backed Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), said, ‘Dennis Shedd and Michael McConnell are the latest examples of President Bush’s campaign to pack the federal judiciary with individuals whose views are far outside America’s mainstream. Regardless of the outcome of the (Nov. 5) election, there is no presidential mandate for a right-wing judiciary. Shedd’s approval by the Senate is a blow to the interests of civil rights and civil liberties.’

Henderson charged that during his 11 years on the federal district court in South Carolina Shedd ruled invariably against equal rights for minorities, women and people with disabilities. He pointed out that the Judiciary Committee approved both Shedd and McConnell on a voice vote, which normally indicates consensus. However, all seven of the Democratic Senators present asked that their names be recorded as ‘nay’ and two others were absent. ‘With nine Senators voting ‘nay’ the vote could have been close enough to prevent Shedd’s nomination from moving to the floor,’ he said.

The Senate leadership pushed Shedd through as a ‘farewell present’ for racist Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) who is retiring. ‘Senators who voted to confirm Dennis Shedd send a clear signal to women, racial minorities, workers and consumers across America that their voices will not be heard,’ Henderson said.

Bush is appointing to the bench ‘nominees who are hostile to civil rights, women’s rights, and Congress’ authority to protect these rights,’ he added. Shedd and other Bush nominees ‘will get lifetime appointments where they can limit or even roll back progress on civil rights and civil liberties.’

Henderson promised that LCCR ‘will continue to fight to ensure that individuals confirmed to the federal courts are committed to the protection of equal opportunity, individual rights and fundamental freedoms – not judges with a right-wing agenda who will decide cases that will undermine civil rights.’

People for the American Way (PFAW) also denounced the Senate vote as ‘very disappointing’ but pointed out that 44 Senators voted against confirming Shedd. ‘Hopefully, these 44 votes are a sign that the Senate will not cede its role in selecting federal judges and become a rubber stamp for presidential nominations.’

Appeals courts hear about 30,000 cases each year and ‘are the court of last resort for millions of Americans,’ the PFAW statement declared. ‘That gives these courts the final word for most Americans on critical issues concerning civil rights, reproductive rights, civil liberties, environmental protection, privacy and religious freedom.

PFAW President Ralph Neas warned last May that the ‘top domestic priority’ of the Bush administration and its right-wing allies is to ‘claim control of the federal courts. Their success would overturn decades of legal precedents protecting civil rights.’

Contrary to the loud complaints that the Democrats were stonewalling Bush court nominees, the 107th Congress confirmed 100 Bush judicial nominees, 72 of them during the months of Democratic majority control of the Senate. That compares to the years of the Clinton presidency when the 104th Congress with a GOP-majority Senate approved only 73 judges.

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