Saturday, October 09, 2004

Judicial Nominees Bad For Civil Rights

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights: Bush's Judicial Nominees Bad For Civil Rights

Washington, DC - At a meeting today of the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR), Republican Commission members failed in their attempt to have a highly critical review of the Bush administration's record on civil rights removed from the public domain. The comprehensive draft details the blatant lack of progress George Bush has made on civil rights in America during the last four years, placing special emphasis on Bush's controversial record concerning judicial appointments.

The opening summary of the report, prepared by staff for the Commission's review today, states: "This report finds that President Bush has neither exhibited leadership on pressing civil rights issues, nor taken actions that matched his words."

"This new report proves that Bush is abusing our judiciary system to appoint activist judges with extremist ideologies," said Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe. "If Bush is given the chance, he will appoint one of his far-right wing judges to the Supreme Court. If that happens we won't be headed in the wrong direction for four more years. We'll be headed in the wrong direction for generations to come."

Below are excerpts from the Commission's draft report. For the full report, go to

The Bush Record

"Many of his nominees and appointees do not support civil rights protections. The effect may be eventual weakening of civil rights laws."

"Some of President Bush's nonminority nominees hold views that would limit the scope and strength of civil rights laws, as do some of his minority and female nominees."

Increased Politicization of the Bench

"One commentator cites the President's campaign promise to effect an ideological transformation of the federal judiciary as the reason for increased politicization."

"Because federal judges have the power to interpret and establish precedent upon which future case law can be based, and because they serve life terms, their civil rights views are critical. Civil rights organizations and leadership have objected to and launched campaigns against several of President Bush's nominees, claiming that the administration is trying to pack the judiciary with anti-civil rights ideologues."

Selection Process

"President Bush's first action on judicial nominations was to change the selection process. In March 2001, the administration terminated the longstanding relationship between the American Bar Association (ABA) and the White House Counsel's Office. For 50 years, ABA had advised Presidents on the qualifications of judicial nominees for service."

"In a news conference following the White House announcement, the ABA president expressed concern that ‘the role of politics may be taking the place of professionalism in choosing judges.' Some newspapers and civil rights advocacy groups voiced opposition to the decision and said that removing ABA could have a negative effect on civil rights law enforcement."

Controversial Judges

Charles Pickering "Of particular concern to civil rights advocates was a 1994 case in which Pickering actively sought a reduced sentence for a man convicted of cross burning, a widely used hate group intimidation tactic. At one point Pickering referred to the act as a ‘youthful prank,' diminishing its symbolic representation of race baiting and hatred. Pickering took the further step of contacting a friend at the Department of Justice during the trial to try to get the offender's sentence reduced, a move considered unethical by several legal experts.

"Pickering has also argued for a more narrow application of the Voting Rights Act and suggested that, generally, discrimination cases have no bases.

"On January 16, 2004, President Bush bypassed Senate approval and used his recess appointment powers to seat Pickering."

Priscilla Owen
"President Bush first nominated Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen during the 107th Congress. She received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which eventually declined her nomination. In early January 2003, a coalition of civil rights groups wrote a letter to President Bush, urging him not to renominate Justice Owen, in part because her opinions ‘reveal a troubling hostility to discrimination and employee rights.' Another observer noted that ‘her judicial record suggests strongly that she lacks a commitment to equal access to justice for all.' Nearly 40 organizations, including the NAACP, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Women's Law Center, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Employment Lawyers Association, oppose Owen's nomination. Despite these objections, President Bush renominated her. In April 2003, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Owen, but she has yet to receive a vote before the full Senate."

Jeffrey Sutton
"The Senate confirmed Jeffrey Sutton to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals over the protestations of more than 70 national groups and 375 regional, state, and local organizations, including the NAACP, the National Organization on Disability, among other disability rights groups, and environmental justice organizations. These groups expressed concern that Sutton's legal views would curtail Congress' ability to enforce federal protections against discrimination. He has argued against allowing private individuals to sue to enforce the disparate impact regulations of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and for placing limitations on the ability of state employees who are victims of age discrimination to recover damages.

"He argued furthermore that ADA prohibitions should not apply to state governments despite overwhelming evidence of discrimination by state actors."

Miguel Estrada
"Estrada did not reveal his views on landmark Supreme Court decisions, and the White House refused to answer questions about his judicial philosophy or release memos he wrote during his tenure in the solicitor general's office in the Bush Sr. administration."

Janice Rogers Brown
"Despite opposition from nearly 80 national organizations and more than 200 law professors and legal academicians, President Bush nominated Janice Rogers Brown for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in July 2003. As a judge on the California Supreme Court, Brown consistently demonstrated hostility to affirmative action, civil rights, and the rights of disabled individuals, workers, prisoners, and women, according to the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. In an affirmative action case in California, a fellow Republican-appointed justice, despite concurring with the result of the case, described her view as "a serious distortion of history." In that case, not only did Brown issue a lengthy opinion opposing affirmative action programs, but she also strongly condemned Supreme Court decisions that had upheld such programs in the public sector, even in limited circumstances."



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