WASHINGTON -- Civil rights groups, which have been pressing Senate Democrats to filibuster a series of important judicial nominations by President Bush, are now mobilizing opposition to the latest nominee, California Supreme Court justice Janice Rogers Brown.
Brown, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has also come under fire from other sources, including the New York Times, which on Saturday described her nomination as "among the very worst ...of the many unworthy judicial nominees President Bush has put forward." The D.C. Circuit is widely considered to be the second-most important court in the United States, after the Supreme Court itself.
Among other positions she has taken over the years, Brown once attacked the New Deal as "the triumph of socialist revolution" and, as noted by the Times, she praised a series of Supreme Court decisions in the early 20th century that found laws approved by Congress to protect the health and safety of workers to be illegitimate interference by the state in business.
A large coalition of women's, civil rights, labor, and environmental groups is already on record against Brown whose ultra-conservative views on many public-policy issues are similar to those of Supreme Court Associate Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown smiles during a court session May 27, 2003, in San Francisco. Brown goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Bush's nominee to a federal appeals court judgeship. It's not clear whether Brown will reach the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, or become embroiled in political gridlock that has scuttled other Bush nominations. (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)
Her views were the major focus of her first confirmation hearing before the Senate Judicial Committee last Thursday. Democrats bombarded her with questions about her past statements. Brown, who is African-American, generally stood by them, although she insisted that there was a difference between her personal political views and her responsibilities as a judge.
"I absolutely understand the difference between being a speaker and being a judge," she told the committee at one point.
When Sen. Richard Durbin asked her about her comparison of the New Deal to socialist revolution, she replied that she was addressing law students in order to provoke discussion at the time. Pressed on the issue, however, she said, "The speech speaks for itself."
Durbin charged that Brown's opinions on the California Supreme Court, which she joined in 1996, "are outside the mainstream of America." In some of her decisions, he asserted, she had ignored clear judicial precedent and based her opinions on purely personal views.
In one case cited by her critics, Aguilar v. Avis Rent a Car Systems, Inc., Brown dissented from a majority decision that ordered the company to stop its supervisor from calling Hispanic workers by racial epithets. In a lone dissent, she argued that racially discriminatory speech in the workplace, even if it rises to the level of illegal discrimination, is protected by the company's First Amendment right to free speech.
"Justice Brown's opinions on civil rights and discrimination cases are perhaps the most troubling part of her record," according to a resolution approved recently by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., an national African-American women's service and education organization, "revealing a blatant disregard for judicial precedent and a desire to limit the ability of victims of discrimination to sue for redress."
In a letter sent to senators earlier this month, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) also came out in strong opposition to her nomination. "Not only does she show an inability to dispassionately review cases," the letter said, "but her opinions are based on her extremist ideology and also ignore judicial precedent, even that set by the United States Supreme Court."
The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has opposed her nomination for the same reasons.
The American Bar Association gave her an unusually poor rating. None of the members of the evaluation committee found that she was "well qualified." A majority found her to be "qualified," while a minority gave her a rare "not qualified" rating.
Brown enjoys support among Republicans, however, who have complained that Democrats have transformed judicial confirmations into partisan fights. "She is a conservative African-American woman," said Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, "and for some that alone disqualifies her nomination to the D.C. Circuit."
But Democrats points out that they have approved twice as many judicial nominations at this point in Bush's term as Republicans had approved at a comparable point in former President Bill Clinton's term. Noting that Republicans charged that Democratic opposition to Estrada was also grounded in the fact that he was a conservative Latino, Democrats have complained that the administration has been playing a race card of its own.
To date, four nominees to federal appeals courts--Texas judge Priscilla Owen, District of Columbia attorney Miguel Estrada, Mississippi Judge Charles Pickering, and Alabama Attorney General William Pryor--have been the subject of successful filibusters by Senate Democrats.
Of these, only Estrada withdrew his name from consideration. Estrada, who worked in the Justice Department under Attorney General John Ashcroft, provoked even Republican ire by refusing both to answer questions about his judicial philosophy and to hand over memoranda he had prepared while serving under Ashcroft.
The other nominations are still pending. Republicans said they were hoping to move Pickering's nomination to the floor in the coming week, but Democrats say they will filibuster against him, as they have successfully in the past. Breaking a filibuster requires that a minimum of 60 senators vote to close debate. Pickering's foes charge that his views on abortion and race are too far outside mainstream views to hold a powerful position in the nation's judicial system.
Mississippi Republican Sen. Trent Lott, a sponsor of Pickering's nomination, said that if he is not approved this week, Pickering will have to consider withdrawing. "We are going to get him confirmed, or he's going to probably, at the end of the session, have to re-evaluate whether he wants to continue the battle," Lott said.
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