WASHINGTON -- The oldest and largest U.S. civil rights coalition has launched a new web site, "Save Our Courts," to inform the public about what it calls "extremist" jurists nominated by the Bush administration to serve on the federal bench.
"Our freedoms are being threatened by extremist federal judicial nominees at the circuit and district court levels," said Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) at Monday's launch. "The individuals charged with dispensing justice in our society have a direct impact on all of our rights, as well as on protecting the environment, workers, and consumers. Our federal judges, who are appointed for life, must be moderate, fair and impartial. What could be more important than saving our courts from extremist ideologues?"
The new site, www.SaveOurCourts.org, will be a joint operation by the LCCR, a coalition of more than 180 organizations including the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Coalition of La Raza, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Communications Consortium Media Center, and Earthjustice, an environmental group.
The site provides comprehensive information about nominees, as well as articles, editorials, and op-ed pieces on Bush's judicial nominees; grassroots training kits; and links to other organizations that oppose them, according to Henderson.
While the vast majority of Bush's judicial nominees have been approved by the Senate, Democrats have opposed a series of appointments they consider to be beyond the pale. Four nominees to appeals courts--Texas judge Priscilla Owen, District of Columbia attorney Miguel Estrada and Mississippi's Charles Pickering, and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor--have been the subject of successful filibusters by Senate Democrats, who have also announced plans to block California judge Carolyn Kuhl's recent nomination to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals based in San Francisco and Michigan judge Henry Saad's nomination to the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati.
Before Congress began its August recess last week, Democrats successfully turned back a Republican-led effort to halt a filibuster against Pryor, who was nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, when a vote to close debate on the nomination fell seven votes short of the 60 needed to invoke cloture. Efforts to close debate on the Estrada and Owen nominations also failed.
The confrontations over the nominees have fueled anger on both sides of the aisle. Republicans argue that Democrats are should defer to the president's wishes, while Democrats insist that the relatively few candidates they have singled out for opposition are extremists who, if approved, would be likely to heed their personal convictions at the expense of accepted law and mainstream views.
Democrats point out more than twice as many of Bush's judicial nominees have been confirmed than those nominated by Clinton at a comparable point in the two presidents' terms.
Owen, Estrada, and Pickering were first nominated by Bush in the last Congress. Democrats had hoped that Bush would decline to renominate them when the current Congress convened in January, so his decision to put their names forward once again inflamed partisan passions.
Democrats charge that Owen's strong opposition to abortion rights and support for business interests over those of labor make her unqualified, while they have complained about Estrada's refusal to answer questions during his confirmation hearings. Pickering is criticized for his views on abortion and race.
Pryor's outspoken far-right views on abortion, states' rights, and environmental protection have spurred Democrats' opposition. He was the first state attorney general to argue that the Endangered Species and Clean Air Acts violated the U.S. Constitution because such regulation should be left to the states alone.
"Pryor is the most extreme nominee we have been asked to support," said New York Sen. Charles Schumer during debate last week. "He is not a mainstream conservative. He is the Frankenstein nominee--a stitching together of the worst parts of the most troubling nominees we have seen."
Republicans claims that Democrats are simply being obstructionist and are punishing the nominees in some cases for their strongly held religious beliefs. Democrats seem to be targeting "traditional pro-life Catholic conservatives," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah last week. "Certainly, Pryor is one; Kuhl is another," he added.
But such strongly held religious beliefs, if promoted from the bench, particularly at the appeals court level, could have a major impact on the civil rights in the U.S. according to Nancy Zirkin, LCCR deputy director. "If the Bush administration is successful in making lifetime appointments of the right-wing judges it has nominated, the civil rights of millions of Americans will be dramatically reduced."
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