It may be legal, but it’s still a coup d’état. The nomination of Theodore B. Olson to be solicitor general, a position of such influence that it is often referred to as “the 10th member of the Supreme Court,” affirms that President Bush has turned the US judiciary over to the far right.
We can’t say we weren’t warned when Bush, during the campaign, named Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia as his role models for future judicial appointments. They returned the compliment by obediently bowing to the arguments of Bush’s lawyer, Olson, that abruptly stopped the vote counting in Florida, thus handing the election to Bush.
Once in office, Bush quickly appointed three of Thomas’s closest personal and ideological buddies to head the judicial branch of the US government. Newly minted Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft made that point when he rushed off to Thomas’s chambers to be sworn in out of the public eye. Then came the appointment of Larry Thompson, who had defended Thomas in his stormy confirmation hearings, as deputy attorney general. Then the pièce de résistance: Olson.
While newspaper editorials praised the Bush Administration for its moderate style, the often mute Thomas emerged from the shadows to celebrate the far right’s triumph. At a conservative dinner soiree, Thomas issued a militant call to arms decrying “an overemphasis on civility.” Indeed, instead of being civil to those with whom he disagrees, we had the unseemly spectacle of a Supreme Court Justice calling for ideological war: “The war in which we are engaged is cultural, not civil.” He chided moderates in his own party saying he was “deeply concerned because too many [conservatives] show timidity today precisely when courage is demanded.”
Surely he wasn’t referring to the President, who has given the GOP right wing the prize it really wanted: control of the judiciary. Clearly, the intention is to use the powers of the state to pursue the right’s social agenda while virtually dismantling the federal government as a force for social justice.
The choice of Olson as solicitor general seals the right wing’s seizure of power. But it could not have happened without the denigration of the Clinton Administration and its threat to marginalize the right by moving politics back to the center. Key to the effort to destroy Clinton was this same Olson, who will now represent the US government in cases involving affirmative action, the environment and women’s rights. Guess what side of those issues Olson has represented in the past? Olson, a member of the board of directors and legal counsel for the extreme right American Spectator magazine, was a principal figure in smearing Clinton even before the man was elected to his first term. The magazine used $2.4 million provided by far-right billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to dig up dirt on Clinton in what started as Troopergate and ended up propelling the Paula Jones case to the status of an impeachable offense. It was this same Olson, a close friend of Kenneth Starr, who coached Jones’ attorneys before their successful request to the Supreme Court to allow a civil suit to be heard against a sitting President.
Olson is one of those family values conservatives who evidently believes that only wealthy women like his lawyer-talk show pundit third wife should work. He argued unsuccessfully before the Supreme Court against a California law that protected the jobs of women who took four months of unpaid disability leave for pregnancy, terming it “destructive to women.”
Olson had another major failure when in 1996 he argued against women being admitted to the publicly financed all-male Virginia Military Institute on the grounds that the school’s character would be fundamentally altered. To which Justice Stephen Breyer tartly replied, “So what?”
One of Olson’s unsavory victories came when he got a federal appeals court to rule that the affirmative action program for admissions at the University of Texas was unconstitutional. An opponent of environmental protection, Olson has gone to court to get sections of the Endangered Species Act declared unconstitutional.
Now Olson and the other friends of Thomas are in a position to weigh in heavily on future nominations to the Court, and their own names will surely head the list. These are lawyers who have devoted not only their professional lives but their personal political activity to reshaping the Court as an activist vehicle to turn back the clock on the rights of women, minorities and working people as well as to leave the environment open to corporate exploitation.
By selecting this triumvirate to head the Justice Department, Bush has sent the strongest of signals as to his intent to use the Court to advance the far right’s agenda. So much for moderation.