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National Organization for Women warns women’s lives at stake in judicial confirmation battle
Activists revving up for a fierce confirmation battle responded immediately yesterday to the announcement of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement, warning Americans that her replacement will have a profound influence on America’s most divisive cultural issues.
“It is inevitable that this confirmation battle will revolve around values,” said Gary Bauer, president of Virginia-based American Values and former Republican presidential candidate. “The administration should not be afraid of such a debate.”
The website of the National Organization for Women opens with an “Emergency Alert” pop-up that warns “Justice O’Connor Resigns … Women’s Lives on the Line.”
Beneath photographs, the site’s front page says, “These are the faces of women who died because they could not obtain safe and legal abortions. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, these pictures could include your daughter, sister, mother, best friend, granddaughter. … Don’t let George W. Bush and the U.S. Senate put another anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court.”
Meanwhile, pro-life groups plan to join forces for rallies, prayer vigils and demonstrations at the Supreme Court, beginning three days before confirmation hearings start and continuing until the process ends.
Brandi Swindell, director of one of those groups, Generation Life, said young people understand the importance of filling the new vacancy.
“The abortion forces and the courts have been fighting against our right to live and we are determined to see that come to an end,” she said. “It is my hope and prayer that our generation will be the one to help overturn Roe v. Wade.”
O’Connor’s retirement will create the first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years. The 75-year-old justice, who said she plans to leave before the start of the court’s next term in October, cited her age and said she “needs to spend time” with family.” Her husband, John, suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.
President Bush said he expects to announce his selection after returning from the upcoming G-8 Summit in Europe.
People for the American Way, among the more vocal critics of previous conservative judicial nominees, said that with O’Connor “providing the swing vote on critical 5-4 decisions regarding privacy, reproductive rights, affirmative action, government neutrality toward religion and more, we cannot overstate the profound impact her replacement could have on the direction of American law and society.”
The group said it hopes Bush will select a “consensus nominee” after consulting senators from both parties, “but given his track record, the odds are good that he will nominate someone who threatens our rights and liberties … .”
In that case, the group said, it “will have to mount a tireless campaign this summer to keep that nominee from being confirmed by the U.S. Senate.”
The American Civil Liberties Union “expressed great concern that the Bush administration will replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor … with a nominee whose judicial philosophy is fundamentally opposed to the progress made in protecting individual rights over the past century.”
The ACLU said that as a matter of policy, it will only oppose nominees to the Supreme Court “that are fundamentally hostile to civil liberties.”
Only two nominees in the group’s history have been opposed, Chief Justice William Rehnquist and former solicitor general and law professor Robert Bork.
The ACLU said the new justice could directly affect the outcome of some of the most divisive legal questions the country faces.
“The nominee could, for instance, reverse the court’s growing discomfort with the death penalty; grant the president greater authority to detain Americans without charge, trial or access to counsel in the name of national security; and uphold troubling parts of the Patriot Act.”
“The nomination battle for O’Connor’s replacement comes at a critical moment for civil liberties,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “The stakes could be as high as they were during the Bork nomination battle of the 1980s.”
Democrats: Extremists need not apply
Yesterday, Bush praised O’Connor as “a discerning and conscientious judge and a public servant of complete integrity” and said he would recommend a replacement who will “faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our country.”
Sandra Day O’Connor
Addressing the upcoming confirmation battle on Capitol Hill, Bush said the nation “deserves a dignified process of confirmation, characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing and a fair vote.”
The White House will not comment on possible nominees, but names mentioned in Washington include Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and federal courts of appeals judges J. Michael Luttig, John Roberts, Samuel A. Alito Jr., Michael McConnell, Emilio Garza and James Harvie Wilkinson III.
Solicitor General Theodore Olson, lawyer Miguel Estrada and former deputy attorney general Larry Thompson are among other possibilities.
Democratic leaders quickly warned President Bush not to try to replace O’Connor with someone whose views they consider extreme, the New York Times reported.
“Justice O’Connor has been a voice of reason and moderation on the court,” said Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the minority leader. “It is vital that she be replaced by someone like her, someone who embodies the fundamental American values of freedom, equality and fairness.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., urged Bush to “replace Sandra Day O’Connor with a consensus candidate, not an ideologue.”
Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who called O’Connor “a mainstream conservative,” said Bush’s replacement “affects each and every American and has the potential to impact every facet of constitutional law and the freedoms this country was founded upon.”
“If the president abuses his power and nominates someone who threatens to roll back the rights and freedoms of the American people, then the American people will insist that we oppose that nominee, and we intend to do so,” Kennedy said.
Responding to similar comments by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Illinois Family Institute Executive Director Peter LaBarbera urged the White House to disregard the advice and choose a Supreme Court nominee like Anthony Scalia or Clarence Thomas “who will interpret the existing constitution — not create law by citing one that is ‘evolving.'”
“Clearly, liberals like Durbin want another Republican Supreme Court judicial nominee who abandons conservative ideals, such as David Souter or Anthony Kennedy,” said LaBarbera. “This would be a colossal mistake for the administration.”
LaBarbera said Americans are “deeply frustrated by activist liberal judges who create laws that would never be passed by Congress or state legislatures — such as the Lawrence v. Texas decision that found a de facto national ‘right’ to sodomy just 17 years after sodomy laws were ruled constitutional.”
LaBarbera urged Durbin and his Illinois colleague, Democratic Sen. Barack Obama, to refrain from trying to “Bork” the new nominee and engage in “People for the American Way-type” hyperbole in the confirmation process.
Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, said the president “has the historic opportunity to keep faith with the promise he has repeated numerous times, which is to name justices who are like Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”
“The Democrats have shown that their filibusters and condemnations of the president’s circuit court nominees were baseless,” LaRue said. “They will threaten more of the same unless he names a clone of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for example.”
In his remarks yesterday, the president said he would consult with the Senate on the nomination, but LaRue said Bush “should not yield to the left’s demands.”
“The Constitution is clear that it’s his right alone to make nominations, and the Supreme Court agrees,” LaRue said.
“O’Connor was known as a ‘swing vote’ but that’s no reason for the president to swing away from his promise and yield to the left’s demands not to ‘upset the balance of the court,'” she said. “That’s not a constitutional requirement. The American people understood and relied on his promise to name judges who will interpret the law and not write it. They expect him to keep that promise.”
Bauer said that while the administration need not ask nominees about specific controversies, it should be confident the nominee has a philosophy that has “no problem with ‘Under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, with the Ten Commandments on courthouse lawns, and with the understanding that marriage is between a man and a woman.”
“This is a time for us to reflect on the noble purposes of our highest court, which was to serve as a reliable standard bearer of our Constitution,” Bauer said. “It’s purpose was not to make the law twist and turn to suit the changing tastes of foreign opinion, but to maintain the ideals that formed the heart of this great nation.”
Bauer said that as chairman of Citizens to Confirm Clarence Thomas, he witnessed “the kind of vicious character assassination that has come to be the hallmark of our judicial confirmation process.”
“It does not have to be that way,” he said, “but the fear of that kind of event must not prevent the president from nominating someone who believes the Constitution means what it says. The temptations to read between the lines, to pander to the whims of political correctness has led to bad law and confusion. We need a justice committed to interpreting the Constitution that our Founding Fathers left us.”
Mat Staver, who argued before the high court in favor of Ten Commandments displays, noted O’Connor voted against the Commandments in both recent cases, consistently backs abortion rights and sided with the majority in the key homosexual-rights case that overturned Texas laws banning sodomy.
Staver, head of Liberty Counsel, said the announcement “marks the beginning of an historic shift in America. Her replacement will be critical to determine the future of the Supreme Court. … We must insist that her vacancy is filled with a justice who respects the rule of law and the Constitution.”
Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, said he hopes the new justice “will interpret the Constitution as it was written and intended by the founders of our nation.”
“Justice O’Connor leaves a mixed legacy with regard to religious freedom, the sanctity of life, marriage and the family,” he said. “At times, we were pleased with her rulings, such as in the 1995 Rosenberger decision, the first big Supreme Court victory ADF backed, which led to many legal dominoes falling with regard to equal access. But she became a major proponent of international law, rewrote the Constitution by finding a ‘right’ for sodomy, and allowed the nightmare of abortion to continue in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Stenberg v. Carhart decisions.”
Ken Connor, chairman of the Center for a Just Society said, “You cannot underestimate the significance of who will replace Justice O’Connor.”
“From the right to life to the Pledge of Allegiance to property rights, no area of American life is untouched by our nation’s courts,” he said.
Connor emphasized that “one of the keys to President Bush’s election victories was his commitment to appoint judges who would strictly interpret the constitution and not legislate from the bench.”
“Though the Left will do everything in their power to stop him from fulfilling that promise, the president must view this fight, along with the war on terror, as the most important in his presidency,” Connor said. “His dedication to this battle will greatly shape his final three years in office and the long-term significance of his administration.”
Connor pointed to the recent 5-4 ruling on property rights as an example of how important O’Connor’s replacement will be.
“With so many 5-4 decisions re-shaping our nation, we need a nominee we can count on once their lifetime appointment begins,” he said. “There are too many quality Supreme Court candidates worthy of a confirmation fight, and worthy of a seat on the court, for us to accept a nominee who is chosen only because he or she will easily win Senate confirmation.”
Allan Parker, president of the Texas-based Justice Foundation, said it’s “contemptible” that O’Connor looked “to other nations when interpreting our Constitution.”
“We support President Bush’s desire to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court with someone like Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justices Scalia and Thomas,” Parker said. “Supreme Court justices should adhere to the rule of law and interpret the Constitution — not make law based on their personal ideology or legal theories.
Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition, said his group will help lead the rallies, prayer vigils and demonstrations at the Supreme Court building.
“We are keenly aware that it was judges who removed prayer from the public schools and decriminalized abortion which resulted in the deaths of 45 million children,” Mahoney said. “It was the courts that attempted to remove ‘One Nation Under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance and it is now courts that are trying to redefine marriage and the family. There can be no more critical decision that President Bush will make then who he nominates to the United States Supreme Court.”