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Why did Democrats do nothing to stop John Roberts?
Chief Evader of the Supreme Court

September 23, 2005 | Page 2

NICOLE COLSON looks at the records of John Roberts--and the senators who questioned him.

JOHN ROBERTS is all but certain to become the next chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court without a fight. And Democrats who promised that they would stand up against George Bush's attempt to pack the high court with more right-wing justices--in particular, ones who would vote to outlaw a woman's right to choose abortion--have given up without a fight.

Roberts got away with refusing to say anything specific about his right-wing positions before the Senate Judiciary Committee--in testimony peppered with the phrases "I'm not going to comment," "I can't address that," "I feel the need to stay away from the discussion," "I do not feel it appropriate for me to comment" and "I don't want to discuss anything." His evasions didn't really matter, since the hearings were viewed as a formality anyway.

Democrats said in advance that they would do nothing to block Roberts' nomination. And rather than organize protests against Roberts, mainstream pro-choice organizations turned out almost no response.

Senate officials had set up an area in a nearby park to handle anticipated crowds of protesters, but it was practically empty every day of the hearings. "A handful of protesters from the National Organization for Women, and one counter-demonstrator, gathered outside the entrance to the Hart Senate Office building on September 14, Roberts's second day of testimony," reported Bloomberg News. "Their chants were barely audible above midday traffic."

This for a man who is anti-abortion; is against affirmative action; helped craft a Reagan-era strategy that would have restricted court-ordered desegregation programs; and opposes the concept of equal pay for equal work and the Title IX equal education law for women and girls.

Some Democrats claimed to be comforted by Roberts' assertion that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, is "settled as a precedent of the court." But Roberts also strongly hinted that he'd be willing to overturn abortion rights. "If particular precedents have proven to be unworkable, they don't lead to predictable results [and] they're difficult to apply, that's one factor supporting reconsideration," Roberts said, later adding that a large part of the legal basis for Roe had already been overturned by the Court in subsequent rulings.

On the other hand, there's no reason to expect that 18 members of the Judiciary Committee--Republicans or Democrats--would represent the interests of ordinary people.

The senators in charge of "judging the judge" include the likes of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a former obstetrician and extreme right-winger who has said that he favors the death penalty for abortion providers. "I believe when we take innocent life intentionally, except to save lives, that we are violating moral law," Coburn said in a debate last year, adding that executing abortion providers would help us "get back to a time when we recognize the value of life."

During opening statements in the Roberts hearing, Coburn worked up tears while urging "less divisiveness, less polarization." Shortly before, the cameras had caught him as he worked on a crossword puzzle.

Then there's Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Today, the Christian Right is after the moderate Republican because of his pro-choice position on abortion rights. But no one should forget his shameful role in questioning lawyer Anita Hill during the 1991 confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Hill, who reluctantly had come forward with allegations of Thomas' sexual harassment, was raked over the coals by Specter, who accused her of "flat-out perjury." Later, Hill recalled that Specter "ridiculed my reaction to Thomas' behavior, suggesting that I was being oversensitive, even to the point of misrepresenting my testimony...With every question he asked, it became clearer that despite any declaration to the contrary, he viewed me as an adversary. Rather than seeking to elicit information, his questioning sought to elicit a conclusion that he had reached before the hearing began."

For all their claims to the contrary, the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are no better at standing up for our rights.

Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was supposed to lead the charge against Roberts on the issue of abortion, has proved her willingness to compromise away our rights time and again. Following September 11 attacks for example, Feinstein gave into anti-immigrant hysteria and called for a six-month ban on student visas. And last year, she said that the fight for same-sex marriage rights should be put off because "it gives [conservatives] a position to rally around. The whole issue has been too much, too fast, too soon. People aren't ready for it."

Another top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Joe Biden, (D-Del.), not only championed the war on Iraq, but gave a glowing eulogy to racist Sen. Strom Thurmond after the bigot's death in 2003. As for doing more to oppose Bush's judicial nominees, Biden helped craft the so-called "compromise" earlier this year that allowed several of the worst of Bush's right-wing federal court nominees onto the bench.

Meanwhile, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) showed his disinterest in abortion rights when he personally recruited the anti-choice Democratic candidate for the Senate in Pennsylvania: Bob Casey Jr.

Schumer and his fellow Democrats' response to John Roberts' nomination shows that our rights aren't safe with either party.

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