With the Senate expected to confirm John Roberts as chief justice of the Supreme Court, civil rights and liberties leaders said senators who voted for Roberts were “turning their backs” on women’s, civil and voting rights.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve Roberts on Sept. 22. Three Democrats broke with their own leadership and joined the Republican majority in voting for Roberts — Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Russell Feingold and Herb Kohl, both of Wisconsin.

“Those senators who profess to champion reproductive rights and civil rights yet voted for Roberts” have “turned their backs on women and girls by endorsing the slick attorney who refused to give clear answers to key questions,” National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy said in a statement following the committee vote.

“Women will judge this vote harshly as we suffer its consequences in the years and decades to come,” Gandy said.

Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, said senators who voted for Roberts “may one day regret their vote. Let us hope that they consider the broad implications for the rights and freedoms of all Americans when they are face to face with President Bush’s next Supreme Court nominee.”

Eleanor Acheson, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force public policy and government affairs director, called the Judiciary Committee vote “beyond disappointing — it is astounding.” Saying Roberts had “ducked, dodged and refused to answer dozens upon dozens of legitimate questions,” Acheson added, “The critical issues at stake — civil rights, individual rights, the authority of Congress, and so many others — deserve far better.”

The three leaders applauded those Democrats who, in Henderson’s words, “voted their conscience and took a principled position” in opposing Roberts — Sens. Joe Biden (Del.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.) and Charles Schumer (N.Y.).

President Bush was expected to announce another extreme right-wing appointee to replace Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The battle over that nomination is likely to be heated. O’Connor, despite her conservative politics, was a swing vote leading to a majority in several significant cases. Americans concerned about the consequences of replacing her with a hard-line far-right justice are mobilizing to prevent a repeat of the Roberts process.

“Roberts’ evasion on major questions and his refusal to distance himself from the disturbing stances he took” while a political appointee in the Reagan administration should have been enough for senators to vote no, Henderson said.

A host of prominent figures had testified against Roberts, citing legal opinions he wrote while serving the Reagan and Bush I administrations.

Ann Marie Tallman, president and general counsel of MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, testified that Roberts had “consistently advanced extreme positions and displayed insensitive attitudes that compel us to oppose his confirmation.” In official memos, Roberts “displayed a disturbing pattern of dismissive, derisive, and flippant comments,” Tallman said. His legal opinions place him “outside of the American mainstream.”

NAACP President and CEO Bruce Gordon cited the “extreme nature” of Roberts’ opposition to affirmative action and extension of voting rights. “Roberts has demonstrated a commitment to reversing the historic civil rights gains of the past 40 years,” Gordon said.

Roberts’ evasiveness in the hearings was aggravated by the White House’s withholding of key documents.

In written testimony to the Senate committee, former Nixon counsel John Dean charged that the Senate was being “stonewalled” by the Bush administration. Dean, who knows something about White House cover-ups from his Watergate years, said he was “startled by the remarkable shift from open government to secret government” under the Bush administration, which has “little to do with national security but everything to do with a White House that insists on secrecy.”

Dean likened the White House refusal to provide essential documents on Roberts to the Nixon and Reagan stonewalling during the nominations of William Rehnquist as associate justice and then chief justice of the Supreme Court. “The Senate twice confirmed a nominee they knew little about, and who was not merely less than candid with the committee, but sadly he dissembled.” The result, Dean said, was two decades of an extreme right-wing chief justice whose “conservatism was often without conscience.”



Susan Webb
Susan Webb

Susan Webb is a retired co-editor of People's World. She has written on a range of topics both international - the Iraq war, World Social Forums in Brazil and India, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and controversy over the U.S. role in Okinawa - and domestic - including the meaning of socialism for Americans, attacks on Planned Parenthood, the U.S. as top weapons merchant, and more.