WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s July 1 resignation creates an emergency threat to all Americans, warned labor and civil rights groups last week. O’Connor’s resignation opens a vacancy on the court for the first time in 11 years and gives President Bush his first opportunity to name a justice to the court.

The 500,000-member National Organization for Women recessed its convention in Nashville July 2 to stage a protest march through downtown. The rally featured speakers Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers; Eleanor Smeal, president, Feminist Majority; Carol Moseley Braun, former U.S. senator and 2004 presidential candidate; and NOW President Kim Gandy.

“This is a state of emergency for women’s rights,” said Gandy. The O’Connor resignation, Gandy said, gives Bush “the opportunity to replace a justice who has often made the difference in the preservation of essential rights with an anti-woman justice who could influence the courts for the next 40 years.”

At stake are affirmative action and other democratic rights as well as Roe v. Wade, the high court ruling that upholds abortion rights. O’Connor supported Roe v. Wade in a recent 5-4 ruling, but if Bush names a right-wing idelogue tht landmark decision culd be overturned.

“Every member of the Senate will have to choose sides,” Gandy said, “either they will side with the bullies in the Republican leadership or they will take the side of our fundamental freedoms.”

The president’s choice “will affect the lives of every single American, no matter their race, class, age, education, or economic status,” Marc H. Morial, National Urban League president, said in a July 5 op-ed on civil rights.org.

“At a time when our country is deeply divided, we must recognize the important role of the Supreme Court in protecting the rights and liberties of all Americans,” Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, said July 1. He warned that with O’Connor gone, affirmative action, disability rights and due process rights are in peril.

“We are calling on the president to engage in meaningful consultation with Congress in choosing a consensus nominee who respects the rights of working people,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a July 1 statement.

“It would be a serious flaw in judgment for the president to appoint an extremist, right-wing candidate in an attempt to foist certain ideological views on working Americans,” Sweeney said. “We need a candidate who will judge cases fairly and not be swayed by political agendas.”

Also in a July 1 statement, Gerald McEntee, president of the 1.4-million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said, “The Supreme Court rules on issues that profoundly affect the lives of working people, such as wage laws, worker safety, discrimination and harassment. Working families deserve a court that will look out for their safety and well-being, and it is President Bush’s job to ensure that his nominee has their best interests at heart.”

MoveOn.org announced a drive for 250,000 signatures for a petition urging senators to block Bush’s drive to pack the court with extremists. The online organization has also called for 1,000 house parties across the nation on the issue.

“From the Patriot Act to the Terri Schiavo tragedy, in the last four years the Republican leadership has exploited every opportunity to attack the basic American right to keep our private choices private and to make personal decisions without government intrusion,” a MoveOn.org statement said. “This vacancy could represent the biggest threat yet.”

Jeremy Leaming, a spokesman for Americans United For Separation of Church and State, told the World his organization is already mobilizing.

“We have called on our members to contact their senators to urge them not to replace O’Connor with a radical justice who is going to tilt the court to the extreme right,” he said.

“This administration did not win a second term in a waltz. They won by a few percentage points. Bush has no mandate to name an extremist to the court,” Leaming said. “What he does have is the Christian right that opposes separation of church and state. They harbor contempt for the Bill of Rights. They want to impose a theocracy in this country.”

“Most Americans want Supreme Court justices who are fair and independent and are selected with the support of senators from both parties,” said Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way (PFAW).

“Unfortunately, that’s not what the radical right leaders want. They have control of the White House and both houses of Congress and they want to control the Supreme Court. They want unchecked power.”

“The stakes are high for all Americans,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a July 1 statement. “I hope that the president will honor not only Justice O’Connor’s record of service, but also her judicial independence, by respecting that tradition of meaningful consultation and in finding a nominee who will unite and not further divide the nation.”


Lawrence Albright contributed to this article.