Of all the votes by Democratic senators in favor of the nomination of John Roberts to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, none is likely to be more disappointing to progressives than that of Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold.
Feingold, a maverick Democrat whose increasingly outspoken criticism of the war in Iraq has earned him frequent mentions as a potential candidate for his party's 2008 presidential nomination, was one of three Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to support the Roberts nomination on Thursday.
Along with Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the committee, and fellow Wisconsinite Herb Kohl, Feingold joined all of the committee's Republicans in backing the Bush administration nominee. The three Democratic votes on the committee are likely to ease the way for as many as two dozen Senate Democrats to vote to confirm Roberts when the nomination goes to the full Senate.
Feingold's stance is especially significant, as his lonely opposition to the Patriot Act in 2001 and other bold challenges to the administration have marked him as one of the chamber's more courageous defenders of civil rights and civil liberties. As such, his support of Roberts provides other Democrats and moderate Republicans who choose to back the nominee with a measure of cover.
But why would Feingold want to provide that cover?
The senator, who has a record of showing great deference to presidents when it comes to confirming nominees (including that of former Attorney General John Ashcroft), had his excuses. He told the committee, "Judge Roberts's impeccable legal credentials, his reputation and record as a fair-minded person, and his commitment to modesty and respect for precedent have persuaded me that he will not bring an ideological agenda to the position of Chief Justice of the United States and that he should be confirmed."
But, then, in the same statement to the committee, Feingold admitted, "I do not want to minimize the concerns that have been expressed by those who oppose the nomination. I share some of them. Many of my misgivings about this nomination stem from Judge Roberts's refusal to answer many of our reasonable questions. Not only that, he refused to acknowledge that many of the positions he took as a member of the Reagan Administration team were misguided or in some cases even flat-out wrong."
The fact is that Feingold asked some of the best questions of Roberts on those very issues, and he got some of the worst answers.
Unfortunately, Feingold does not appear to have taken those exchanges seriously enough to decide that Roberts failed the test.
One senator who did listen to Feingold's exchanges with the nominee was Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy.
In explaining his decision to vote against Roberts, Kennedy specifically mentioned Feingold's pointed questioning of Roberts.
Recalling the discussion of the Roberts's efforts to block the strengthening of the Voting Rights Act when the nominee served in Ronald Reagan's administration, the Massachusetts senator noted that, "Both Senator Feingold and I tried to find out whether he came to agree with the strengthened Voting Rights Act after President Reagan signed it into law. Even when Senator Feingold asked whether Judge Roberts would acknowledge today that he had been wrong to oppose (limits on the ability of minorities to seek protection under the Voting Rights Act), he refused to give a yes-or-no answer."
Kennedy went on to point out that: "Senator Feingold asked: 'What I'm trying to figure out is, given the fact that you've followed this issue for such a long time, I would think you would have a view at this point about… whether the department was right in seeking to keep the (narrow) intent test (that Roberts lobbied for) or whether time has shown that the (broader) effects test (that was supported by civil rights groups and much of Congress) is really the more appropriate test.'
"Judge Roberts responded, 'I'm certainly not an expert in the area and haven't followed and have no way of evaluating the relative effectiveness of the law as amended or the law as it was prior to 1982.
"So we still don't know whether he supports the basic law against voting practices that result in denying voting rights because of race, national origin, or language minority status."
Feingold's questioning helped Kennedy form his conclusion that, "Based on the record available, there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Roberts' view of the rule of law would narrow the protection of basic voting rights. The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast large doubts on his view of the validity of laws that remove barriers to equal opportunity for women, minorities, and the disabled. His record raises serious questions about the power of Congress to pass laws to protect citizens in matters they care about."
Kennedy concluded, appropriately, that it would be irresponsible on any senator -- particularly any progressive senator -- to vote for the Roberts nomination.
Feingold did not choose to embrace the responsibility that Kennedy recognized. Though he asked the right questions, Feingold cast the wrong vote.
Any doubts about whether the Bush administration's nominee to become the 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court will win the endorsement of the Senate Judiciary Committee came were removed when the ranking Democrat on the committee, Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, said he would join Republicans in supporting the confirmation of John Roberts. Though Leahy asked some of the toughest questions of Roberts during the Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination, and received some of the least-satisfying answers, the senator has now decided to suspend disbelief.
``John Roberts is a man of integrity," Leahy announced, adding that, "I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda.''
Leahy, a former prosecuting attorney, would never have convinced a jury with so lame an expression of confidence in a star witness. But his decision could convince a number of Democrats on the committee -- including cautious moderates such as California's Dianne Feinstein and Wisconsin's Herb Kohl -- to back Roberts. And as many as half of the Senate's 44 Democratic members may do the same when the full chamber considers the nomination. Certainly, the announcement by so-called Senate Democratic "Leader" Harry Reid, D-Nevada, that he will oppose Roberts's confirmation will not have much impact.
Indeed, there is some serious speculation that the Reid-Leahy split -- coming with a 24-hour period -- is meant to comfort the Democratic party's anti-Roberts base while at the same time signaling to wavering Senate Democrats that they are essentially free to back Roberts. Within the Democratic Caucus, there is some sentiment for the view that members should vote to confirm Roberts in order to appear cooperative with the Bush administration when it comes to high court nominations. That, the theory goes, will make Democratic opposition to a conservative replacement for retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor more credible.
The awareness that such calculations are in play led to a good deal of snickering when Leahy, who is nothing if he is not an able politicial player, claimed to be "voting my conscience" with his endorsement of Roberts. Even Leahy seemed to be dubious about his stance, as the senator admitted to lingering concerns that Roberts will, as chief justice, be too deferential to presidential authority. (Leahy's suggestion that his concerns were somewhat alleviated by the fact that Roberts is an admirer of the late Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was comic. It is true that Jackson was involved in a high-profile challenge to presidential authority in 1952, when he backed a Supreme Court ruling to block an attempt by then-President Harry Truman to seize and operate U.S. steel mills for the supposed purpose of maintaining production of needed munitions during the Korean War. But the fact that Roberts, perhaps the most pro-corporate nominee in the history of the court, respects a jurist who chose to prevent the government from meddling in the affairs of major corporations can hardly be called "reassuring.")
For evidence of where people of conscience are lining up, consider the statement by the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who on Wednesday advanced the most convincing case for rejecting Roberts. While conservatives will dismiss Kennedy as a liberal partisan who would never back a Republican nominee, the truth is the opposite. As the veteran senator noted Wednesday, "In my 43 years in the United States Senate, I have supported more nominees for the Supreme Court by Republican presidents than by Democratic presidents." Kennedy backed the nominations of Antonin Scalia, Sandra Day O'Connor, Anthony Kennedy and other members of the court who were nominated by Republican presidents. (Significantly, Kennedy was one of nine senators who voted against former President George H.W. Bush's 1990 nomination of Justice David Souter, who has turned out to be one of the court's most liberal members. As with the Roberts nomination, Kennedy was concerned that Souter had not been frank enough in his testimony before the Judiciary Committee.)
It is notable that even if Leahy was not sufficiently concerned by Roberts's responses to his questions, the statement from senator from Massachusetts indicates that he was influenced by the issues the senator from Vermont raised.
Here is what Senator Kennedy had to say in announcing his opposition to the Roberts nomination:
Our Founders proclaimed the bedrock principle that we are all created equal. But everyone knows that when we started, the reality was far different. For more than two centuries, we have struggled, sometimes spilling precious blood, to fulfill that unique American promise. The goals, the principles, and the sacrifices of millions of Americans breathed an ever-fuller life into our constitutional ideals.
The Constitution itself has been the inspiration for this march of progress. The open-ended principles that our Founders had the wisdom to bequeath us have acquired ever-deeper meaning over the years – a remarkably steady movement toward greater protection for individual rights and liberties, and an increasing assurance that governments at all levels have the authority to defend ordinary Americans from overreaching by those who would discriminate against them or exploit them.
We have made much progress. But our work is not finished, and we still look to our elected representatives and our independent courts to uphold those founding principles in each new generation, to continue the great march of progress, to never turn back and never give up our hard-won gains.
This was the basic issue in our hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to become our next Chief Justice. Would he bring to that high office the values and ideals that would enable our struggle for equality and opportunities for all to continue, or would he stand in the way?
The only records made available to us were those of John Roberts as an aggressive activist in the Reagan Administration, eager to limit basic values we have achieved at great cost and sacrifice over the years, especially in basic areas such as voting rights, women's rights, civil rights, and disability rights. He's an outstanding lawyer who says he could represent clients on any side of a question. As Congressman John Lewis eloquently stated in our hearings, 25 years ago, John Roberts was on the wrong side of the nation's struggle to achieve genuine equality of opportunity for all Americans. Now, we need to know whose side he is on today. We need to know that as Chief Justice of the United States, his sole client would be all the American people. John Roberts is a highly intelligent nominee. He has argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, and won more than half of them. He is adept at turning questions on their head while giving seemingly appropriate answers. These skills served him well as a Supreme Court advocate. These same skills, however, made a mockery of the confirmation process. At the end of the four days of hearings, we still know very little more than we knew when we started.
He proclaimed repeatedly in the hearings that he would uphold the rule of law.
In answer to a question about his views, he said, "If I am confirmed, on the Supreme Court, I need to decide those questions with an open mind on the basis of the arguments presented, on the basis of the record presented in the case, and on the basis of the rule of law."
In answer to another question about his views, he stated again, "I will confront issues in this area as I would confront issues in any area, . . . and that would be to fully and fairly consider the arguments presented and decide them according to the rule of law."
In yet another instance, he proclaimed, "The responsibility of the judicial branch is to decide particular cases that are presented to them in this area according to the rule of law." And again, "I became a lawyer or at least developed as lawyer because I believe in the rule of law."
The rule of law. Everyone in the Senate agrees with that. In fact, we have each taken an oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution, and we take that oath seriously. But it reveals little about how we will vote on the important questions of the day, and what values and ideals we bring to our decisions.
Judge Roberts said that a judge should be like an umpire, calling the balls and strikes, but not making the rules. But we all know that with any umpire, the call may depend on your point of view. An instant replay from another angle can show a very different result. Umpires follow the rules of the game. But in critical cases, it may well depend on where they are standing when they make the call.
The same holds true of judges.
As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience."
As Justice Stephen Breyer offered in his confirmation hearing, "I always think law requires both a heart and a head. If you do not have a heart, it becomes a sterile set of rules, removed from human problems, and it will not help. If you do not have a head, there is the risk that in trying to decide a particular person's problem in a case that may look fine for that person, you cause trouble for a lot of other people, making their lives yet worse."
The rule of law is not some mathematical formula for meting out justice. It is our values and ideals that give it real meaning – in the case of the Constitution, not our personal values and ideals, but our values and ideals derived from the meaning of the constitutional text.
We all believe in the rule of law. But that is just the beginning of the conversation when it comes to the meaning of the Constitution. The Constitution of Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas is a very different document from the Constitution of Justice Stevens and Justice Souter. Everyone follows the same text. That is the rule of law. But the meaning of the text is often imprecise. You must examine the intent of the Framers, the history, and the current reality. And this examination will lead to very different outcomes depending on each Justice's constitutional world view. Is it a full and generous view of our rights and liberties and of government power to protect the people, or a narrow and cramped view of those rights and liberties and the government's power to protect ordinary Americans?
Based on the record available, there is clear and convincing evidence that Judge Roberts' view of the rule of law would narrow the protection of basic voting rights. The values and perspectives displayed over and over again in his record cast large doubts on his view of the validity of laws that remove barriers to equal opportunity for women, minorities, and the disabled. His record raises serious questions about the power of Congress to pass laws to protect citizens in matters they care about.
In fact, there is nothing in the record to indicate otherwise. For all the hoopla and all the razzle-dazzle, the record is no different in its bedrock substance than it was the day the hearings started.
When Senator Kohl and others asked Judge Roberts whether he would disavow any of the positions he took over the years, he refused to do so. On the first day of the hearing, Senator Kohl asked, "Which of those positions were you supportive of, or are you still supportive of, and which would you disavow?" Judge Roberts never provided a clear response.
1.) Voting Rights Act
In the area of voting rights, he has a record of strong opposition to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which is widely acknowledged by scholars and civil rights experts to be one of the most powerful and effective civil rights laws ever enacted. It outlaws voting practices that deny or dilute the right to vote based on race, national origin, or language minority status – and is largely uncontroversial today. Before it was passed, there had not been a single African-American elected since Reconstruction from seven of the southern states with the greatest of African American populations.
But in 1981 and 1982, Judge Roberts was one of a small group of attorneys in the Justice Department urging the Administration to oppose a strong Section 2, which allowed discrimination to be proved by demonstrating its result, not just its intent.
Although Judge Roberts sought to characterize his opposition to this critical amendment as simply following the policy of the Reagan Administration, the dozens of memos he wrote on this subject show that he personally believed the Administration was right to oppose the "results test."
In fact, he pressed to keep others from changing their minds about opposing the law. When Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Brad Reynolds raised concerns about sending the Senate a letter on this issue, John Roberts urged the Attorney General to send it, stating that "my own view is that something must be done to educate the Senators on the seriousness of this problem . . . ." Of course, the problem he saw was the amendment, not the discrimination it was designed to end.
He also urged the Attorney General to assert his leadership against the amendment to Section 2. He wrote that the Attorney General should "head off any retrenchment efforts" by White House staff who were inclined to support the amendment. He consistently urged the Administration to require voters to bear the heavy burden of proving discriminatory intent in order to overturn practices that locked them out of the electoral process.
Judge Roberts clearly knew that his position would make it harder for voters to overturn restrictive voting laws. As he wrote at the time, "violations of section 2 should not be made too easy to prove . . . ." Remember, when he wrote this there were no African Americans elected to Congress from the states with the largest black populations, and only 18 in Congress overall. And there were only 6 Latinos in Congress. There is no indication in any of his writings on the Voting Rights Act that he was the least bit troubled by this obvious discrimination.
The year after section 2 was signed into law, Judge Roberts wrote in a memo to the White House Counsel that "we were burned" by the Voting Rights Act legislation.
Given his clear record of hostility to this key voting rights protection, the public has a right to know if he still holds these views. But Judge Roberts gave us hardly a clue.
When I asked him if he holds these views today, he refused to answer. He repeatedly tried to characterize his views as the views of the Administration. He declined to say whether he agreed with them – then or now. That answer strains credibility, when the memos themselves declare: "my own view is that something must be done…."
In fairness, he did concede that he no longer believes that Section 2 is, to use his words from the 1980s, "constitutionally suspect." But the fact that it took almost 20 minutes for him to provide this obvious answer to a straightforward yes-or-no question is not reassuring.
Both Senator Feingold and I tried to find out whether he came to agree with the strengthened Voting Rights Act after President Reagan signed it into law.
Even when Senator Feingold asked whether Judge Roberts would acknowledge today that he had been wrong to oppose the effects test, he refused to give a yes-or-no answer.
Senator Feingold asked: "What I'm trying to figure out is, given the fact that you've followed this issue for such a long time, I would think you would have a view at this point about…whether the department was right in seeking to keep the intent test or whether time has shown that the effects test is really the more appropriate test."
Judge Roberts responded, "I'm certainly not an expert in the area and haven't followed and have no way of evaluating the relative effectiveness of the law as amended or the law as it was prior to 1982."
So we still don't know whether he supports the basic law against voting practices that result in denying voting rights because of race, national origin, or language minority status.
You don't need to be a voting rights expert to say we're better off today in an America where persons of color can be elected to Congress from any state in the country, as opposed to the America of 1982, in which no African American had been elected to Congress since Reconstruction from Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, or Louisiana, because restrictive election systems effectively denied African Americans and other minorities the equal chance to elect representatives of their choice. In these states, African Americans were a third or more of the population, but they were effectively blocked from electing any candidate of their choice decade after decade throughout the twentieth century.
Yet Judge Roberts repeatedly refused to give even this simple reassurance about the Act. Is that what he means by the rule of law?
2.) Civil Rights Restoration Act
Another very important area in which Judge Roberts refused to disavow his long history of opposition to civil rights is in the prevention of discrimination by recipients of federal funds. These laws were adopted because, Congress believed, as President Kennedy said in 1963, that "[s]imple justice requires that public funds, to which all taxpayers . . . contribute, not be spent in any fashion which encourages, entrenches, subsidizes, or results in . . . discrimination." As an assistant to Attorney General William French Smith, John Roberts argued that these important laws should be narrowed.
In fact, his position was even more extreme than the Reagan Administration's. In 1981, he supported a recommendation to exempt institutions from civil rights laws if the only federal financial assistance they received was in the form of loans to their students. Under this view, the enormous subsidies the federal government gives colleges and universities in the form of federal financial aid would not have been enough to require them to obey the laws against discrimination.
At many private institutions, financial assistance to students was the only form of federal aid, so Judge Roberts' suggestion would have left those institutions largely free to discriminate against women, the disabled, and minorities in both education and hiring.
In fact, Judge Roberts's position was so extreme that it was rejected by the Reagan Administration and later by the Supreme Court. But in his testimony, Judge Roberts ignored this aspect of his record. He refused even to acknowledge that his past positions had gone beyond the Administration's. Instead, he stated repeatedly that he was just doing his job.
He said, "I was articulating and defending the administration's position. . . . The position that the administration advanced was the one I just described. The universities were covered due to federal financial assistance to their students. It extended to the admissions office." That's an accurate statement of the Administration's position, but the view Judge Roberts advanced in his December 8, 1981 memo was quite different.
I also asked whether he still agreed with the statement he made in 1985, that "[t]riggering coverage of an institution on the basis of its accepting students who receive Federal aid is not too onerous if only the admissions office is covered. If the entire institution is to be covered, however, it should be on the basis of something more solid than Federal aid to the students."
Again and again, Judge Roberts refused to say whether he still agrees with those words. He said only "Well, Senator, the administration policy was as I articulated it. And it was my job to articulate the administration policy."
That's no answer at all. I never asked about the policy of the Reagan Administration. I asked only whether today, he still believed, or would disavow, his earlier position. Given his repeated refusal to answer, I can only conclude that he still holds those views today.
In addition, in response to questions from Senator Biden, Judge Roberts refused to say he no longer agrees with his former position that laws against discrimination should be narrowly interpreted to apply only in the parts of the institution that directly receive federal funds. Under this view, a college that received federal financial assistance through its admissions office could not discriminate in admissions, but it could discriminate in every other aspect of its operations – in hiring teachers, in instructing students, and in athletics. When Senator Biden reminded Judge Roberts that he'd written in 1982 that he "strongly agreed" with this view, Judge Roberts never said he no longer holds that position. Instead he testified under oath, "So if the view was strongly held, it was because I thought that was a correct reading of the law." Is that his view of the rule of law?
3.) Title IX
Another very important area in which Judge Roberts failed to give any reassurance was his position protecting women and girls against discrimination in educational programs under Title IX.
In the case of Franklin v. Gwinnett County, in 1991, Judge Roberts argued that Title IX did not allow a high school girl who had been sexually abused by her teacher to recover damages. Judge Roberts' argument would have left the victim with no remedy at all.
Senator Leahy asked him, "Do you now personally agree with and accept as binding law the reasoning of Justice White's opinion in Franklin v. Gwinnett?" Judge Roberts replied that, "It certainly was a precedent of the court that I would apply under principles of stare decisis."
That answer sounds reassuring, until you realize that Judge Roberts never answered whether he personally agreed with this unanimous decision of the Court.
Senator Leahy offered Judge Roberts several chances to disavow his position in the Franklin case. He asked, "Do you now accept that Justice White's position [in Franklin v. Gwinnett County] was right and the government's position was wrong?" Just Roberts replied again, "I certainly accept the decision of the court--the 9-0 decision, as you say – as a binding precedent of the court. Again, I have no cause or agenda to revisit it or any quarrel with it."
That sounded reassuring, until I recalled that Justice Thomas repeatedly used the same words – "I have no quarrel with it" – to evade answers during his nomination hearing. Justice Thomas testified, for instance that he had "no quarrel" with the test established by the Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurzman for analyzing claims under the First Amendment's prohibition on the establishment of religion. But just two years later, Justice Thomas joined a dissent ridiculing the test and saying it should not be applied, and Justice Thomas has consistently opposed the Lemon test ever since.
I have to wonder why it was so difficult for Judge Roberts simply to say, "Yes, in hindsight, I personally believe that Franklin v. Gwinnett was correctly decided, and that victims of intentional sex discrimination in educational programs do have a right to relief under Title IX." Why was that so difficult an answer for Judge Roberts to give? Could it be that it was contrary to his view of the rule of law?
4.) Affirmative Action
Judge Roberts's record is also one of consistent and long-standing opposition to affirmative action. In the 1980s, he urged the Reagan Administration to oppose affirmative action. In the 1990s, in the administration of the first President Bush, he urged the Supreme Court to overturn a federal affirmative action program. In private practice in the late 1990s and as recently as 2001, he litigated cases challenging affirmative action. That includes his repeated challenges to the Department of Transportation's disadvantaged business enterprise program, which has been upheld by every court that has reviewed it.
On affirmative action, his view of the rule of law seems to be that established court precedents have little meaning, even though they have been found again and again to advance our progress on civil rights.
In 1981, he advocated abolishing race- and gender-conscious remedies for discrimination, although he admitted this position was in "tension" with the Supreme Court's opinion in United Steelworkers of America v. Weber, upholding affirmative action in employment – a case that had been decided only two years earlier. He wrote that the Administration did not see that opinion as a "guiding principle."
In the same memos dealing with the Weber decision, Judge Roberts even suggested that the opinion might be overturned because of changes in the Court's composition.
Given his long and consistent opposition to affirmative action, Senators were entitled to seek some reassurance from the nominee that he would not use the power of the Chief Justice to continue his past efforts to end affirmative action.
I asked Judge Roberts, "Do you agree then with Justice O'Connor, writing for the majority, that gave great weight to the real-world impact of affirmative policies in universities?" He stated, "I can certainly say that I do think that that is the appropriate approach, without commenting on the outcome or the judgment in a particular case. But you do need to look at the real-world impact in this area and I think in other areas as well." So he thinks that we should consider real world impact, but he never stated whether he agreed with Justice O'Connor that the University of Michigan case was correctly decided. On that issue, we don't know any more than we did before the hearing.
Senator Feinstein also asked Judge Roberts his view of affirmative action, but he avoided her question as well. She asked, "Do you personally subscribe, not to quotas, but to measured efforts that can withstand strict scrutiny?" Judge Roberts replied, "A measured effort that can withstand strict scrutiny is…a very positive approach." Well, that sounds as though he agrees, but then he also said, "And I think people will disagree about exactly what the details should be."
When Senator Feinstein stated she specifically wanted to know his view of Grutter v. Bollinger, the University of Michigan case upholding affirmative action, Judge Roberts gave a long answer that was no answer at all. "In the Michigan case, obviously, you have – I always forget whether it's the law school --- but I think the law school program was upheld and the university program was struck down because of the differences in the program. But efforts to ensure the full participation in all aspects of our society by people, without regard to their race, ethnicity, gender, religious beliefs, all those are efforts that I think are appropriate."
But of course, Senator Feinstein had not asked about efforts to ensure participation without regard to race. She'd asked his view on a particular affirmative action program at the University of Michigan Law School that took race into account. We still don't know whether he agrees with that important Supreme Court decision, and his refusal to tell us is very troubling.
5.) The Right of All Children to Share in Public Education
I'm also troubled by Judge Roberts' refusal to distance himself from his past criticism of the very important Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe, which held that the basic principle of equal protection requires all school age children to have the same access to public education – including the children of undocumented immigrants. In a very real sense, the Plyler decision is as important to the children of undocumented workers as the Brown decision is to African American children. Yet Judge Roberts strongly criticized the decision. On the day the case was decided, he co-authored a memo criticizing the Solicitor General's Office for failing to file a brief arguing that these children could be denied public education.
Senator Durbin asked Judge Roberts, "Did you agree with the decision . . . then? Or do you agree with it now?" Judge Roberts avoided the question, saying "I haven't looked at the decision in Plyler v. Doe in 23 years. . . ."
Senator Durbin asked, "Is this settled law, as far as you are concerned, about our commitment in education. . . ?" Judge Roberts again avoided the question, stating that he had not looked at the case recently and that when he wrote the memo, he was just doing his job.
So we are left with nothing to reassure us that he has changed his mind from his harsh criticism of that opinion in the past. His many statements of support for the rule of law yield no clue about his true convictions on this important question today.
6.) Women's Rights
Finally, a number of my colleagues on the Committee asked Judge Roberts about issues related to women's rights and a woman's right to privacy. On these important matters, too, he never gave answers that shed light on his current views.
No one is entitled to become Chief Justice of the United States. The confirmation of nominees to our courts – by and with the advice and consent of the Senate – should not require a leap of faith. Nominees must earn their confirmation by providing us with full knowledge of the values and convictions they will bring to decisions that may profoundly affect our progress as a nation toward the ideal of equality.
Judge Roberts has not done so. His repeated allegiance to the rule of law reveals little about the values he would bring to the job of Chief Justice of the United States. The record we have shows a clear hostility to our progress toward our common American vision of equal opportunity for all of our citizens.
Supporting or opposing nominees to the Supreme Court should not be a partisan question. In my 43 years in the United States Senate, I have supported more nominees for the Supreme Court by Republican presidents than by Democratic presidents.
But, there is clear and convincing evidence that John Roberts is the wrong choice for Chief Justice. I oppose the nomination, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.
I interrupt the spirited debate raging in the comments section on whether we should care about the police records of Jeb Bush's children--and whether these Bush kids received preferential treatment due to their father's position--in order to post again today on the latest news regarding the Roberts nomination. If you want to join the fray on the previous column, click the link for that column at the bottom of this page.
What's a Democrat to do?
On September 20, Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid issued a passionate statement denouncing the nomination of John Roberts Jr. as chief justice of the Supreme Court. He said he would vote against Roberts, and he pointed to memos Roberts had written in the 1980s in which Roberts took hard-edged conservative stances on civil rights, privacy issues and other matters. Reid also cited the Bush administration's refusal to release memos Roberts had written when he served in the solicitor general's office during the first Bush administration. "We should only vote to confirm this nominee if we are absolutely positive that he is the right person" for the post, Reid said. His position was unambiguous.
On September 21, Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat of the judiciary committee, declared that he would vote for Roberts. Leahy released a lengthy statement that could have justified either a nay or aye vote. He said he was "extremely disappointed by the lack of cooperation from the Administration....The Bush administration treated senators' requests for information with little respect. Instead, for the first time in my memory, they grafted exceptions from the Freedom of Information Act to limit their response to Senators' requests for information. They stonewalled entirely the narrowly tailored request for work papers from 16 significant cases John Roberts handled when he was the principal deputy to Kenneth Starr at the Solicitor General's office during the President's father's administration." Leahy also complained that Roberts "disserviced himself" by being tight-lipped about his judicial views during his confirmation hearings. And Leahy voiced concern about where Roberts would lead the court:
Judge Roberts's work in the Reagan and Bush Justice Departments as well as his formative period in the Reagan White House seem to have led him to a philosophy of significant deference to presidential authority.....Maybe this deference was a principal basis on which this President chose him....This is a fundamental question. We know that we are in a period in which the Executive has a complicit and compliant Republican Congress that refuses to serve as a check or balance. Without the courts to fulfill that constitutional role, excess will continue, and the balance will be tilted.
But Leahy put aside these and other concerns. Why? Because he believes "Roberts is a man of integrity." He explained:
I can only take him at his word that he does not have an ideological agenda. For me, a vote to confirm requires faith that the words he spoke to us have meaning. I can only take him at his word that he will steer the court to serve as an appropriate check on potential abuses of presidential power. I respect those who have come to different conclusions, and I readily acknowledge the unknowable at this moment, that perhaps they are right and I am wrong. Only time will tell.
"Only time will tell" is not much of a bone to toss to the Democratic base, which has organized against Roberts and yearns for a fight. Once again, the Democrats are splitting on an issue that its most ardent supporters care much about. Just like Iraq. Ted Kennedy (no surprise) is voting against Roberts. So is John Kerry. Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, is voting for Bush's pick. Some progressive bloggers have tried to target Baucus, depicting him as a Democratic turncoat. Are they now going to do the same with Leahy, an otherwise reliable liberal? And can any Democrat who wants to run in 2008 vote to confirm Roberts? There is much anticipation regarding Hillary Clinton's vote. Perhaps Leahy has given her the cover she needs to vote for Roberts. Still, imagine the debate during the Democratic presidential primaries of 2008 if Roberts reaches the court and then weakens abortion rights. Candidates who voted for Roberts could expect to face harsh questions from candidates who opposed Roberts as well as from potential supporters and voters.
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, Marjorie Williams' honesty in death; new ammo for abortion foes, and other in-the-news matters.
Putting aside 2008, how much alienation can the Democratic Party afford now? If its troops--and key liberal fundrasiers--expected a fight on Roberts, they are in for a big disappointment. And such disappointment at the grassroots is not good for a party--especially as it heads into an election year. This is a similar to what has been happening within the party on Iraq. Most Democrats beyond the Beltway are fed up with the war, if the polls are to be believed. But they do not see the leadership of the party--such as there is any leadership of the party--reflecting their concern. In Washington, a handful of Democrats are calling for a withdrawal of some sort from Iraq, some Democrats are urging that the Bush administration fight a better and smarter war, and many (including congressional leaders) are not saying much at all.
Of course, there are real policy differences among Democrats. But on the Roberts nomination and the Iraq war, the GOP is in synch with its base: stay the course and pass Roberts. The Dems are squabbling among themselves, and that renders it more difficult for the party to present a coherent message that could stir its foot soldiers and/or to entice new recruits. The Republicans are engaged in their own intramural fight over federal spending and the reconstruction of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. (When Tom DeLay recently declared that there was no more fat to cut in the federal budget, other conservative Republicans howled at such blasphemy.) And this fight may become ugly. But for now the Democrats are the ones who cannot agree on a bumpersticker.
The election of 2006 is a year away. But if the Democrats are going to try to turn it into a national election--that is, one with overarching themes that can play in various districts and states--they will eventually need a consensus pitch. Going national in this fashion is always a difficult task for a party; most elections are determined by local factors and the qualities of the particular candidates. But it's even tougher when the party has competing messages on the key issues of the moment.
Scroll down for a new update on the St. Patrick's Day Four Trial.
As antiwar sentiment keeps broadening and calls for withdrawal become more and more mainstream, this weekend's antiwar activities in Washington could be the US's largest Iraq war protest yet. With Congressional initiatives for withdrawal beginning to take shape, we could be coming to one of those tipping point moments everyone is so fond of citing these days.
Here's the official schedule for Saturday's antiwar march and rally, organized by United for Peace and Justice. It's a full day that starts with a late morning rally, a march through downtown Washington and an antiwar fair on the grounds of the Washington Monument, capped off by a concert featuring Le Tigre, Ted Leo, Jello Biafra and Steve Earle, among many others.
10:00am, Peace & Justice Festival Begins, Washington Monument Grounds
11:30am, Rally at Ellipse
12:30pm, March begins
3:00pm, Operation Ceasefire concert
Saturday's events will be followed by a UFPJ-organized day of training for two concurrent, complementary actions on Monday: personal lobbying of Congressional reps and civil disobedience outside the White House. (The CD training is particularly useful for those who've never taken part in similar protests before.)
UFPJ's goal for the lobbying is to have more than 600 people from around the country meet with more than 100 members of Congress and their aides. The delegations will include Cindy Sheehan and fellow members of Gold Star Families for Peace on the Bring them Home Now Tour. (Click here to join them.)
There are still lots of ways you can help. First, if you can, come to Washington! If you're coming from NYC, taking one of the UFPJ buses is the cheapest (only $35/roundtrip!) and probably easiest way to go. There are also UFPJ buses leaving from many other places. Click here for departure locations and to buy tickets. If you're driving, leave early (or the night before) or the traffic will kill you, and click here and read the good advice, which includes parking info for when you arrive in the District. You can also consult this housing board for rides nationwide.
Other ways to help:
If you have a website, add a UFPJ banner.
The Green Festival
This weekend is going to be a busy one in the Washington, DC area. In addition to the antiwar protests, there's also the annual Green Festival which The Nation is proud to be co-sponsoring. If you'll be in the area next Saturday or Sunday, please stop by the Washington Convention Center (Mt. Vernon metro stop) to check out the Festival.
Co-produced by Global Exchange and Co-Op America, the GF brings together socially responsible businesses, environmental groups, leading thinkers, and thousands of attendees for a two-day party with a very serious objective: expanding popular support for policies aimed at ecological sustainability and social justice. Check out the more than 125 speakers and 350 exhibitors. Speakers this year include Dennis Kucinich, Jim Hightower, Greg Palast, Dolores Huerta, Medea Benjamin, Van Jones and many others. You can also meet Nation staffers, pick up free copies of the mag, buy discounted shirts and caps and participate in a special Nation raffle--at booth #1021 all weekend.
You're also invited to a special Friday night benefit party hosted by Jim Hightower on Sept. 23 starting at 7:00pm at the Convention Center. Guests receive free organic food and wine plus two free tickets to the entire Green Festival weekend. Click here for info and tickets.
St. Patrick's Day Four Trial Update--Sept. 22
In the first federal prosecution of civilian war protesters on conspiracy charges since Vietnam, the prosecutor rested his case yesterday, Sept. 21, against four antiwar activists after calling just four witnesses over three days.
The four protesters, longtime members of the militantly pacifist group Catholic Worker who spilled drops of their blood at a recruiting center before the invasion of Iraq two years ago, were portrayed by a federal prosecutor as religious zealots who routinely destroy government property yet have mostly evaded consequences.
Now the four on trial, who are defending themselves, take their turn to make their case, arguing that the illegality of the US invasion of Iraq renders their actions in nonviolent protest justifiable, maybe even necessary. As they wrote in a recent article published on Common Dreams, "We were compelled to act by the Nuremburg Principles of international law, which state that citizens have individual rights and duties to prevent war crimes and crimes against humanity which supersede our obligations to obey domestic law. And we were inspired by our nation's rich history of nonviolent action for justice."
With the challenges and obligations created by the Katrina disaster, some political commentators have declared that George W. Bush's presidency is done, suggesting his agenda has been washed aside. That may not be so. He and Karl Rove may yet figure out how to exploit the tragedy in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to revive their Social Security plan, to sell more tax cuts for the well-to-do, and to justify their previously planned cuts in programs for low-income Americans. But if this is the end for a lame duck president, then perhaps it's time to look at Bush: The Next Generation. After all, we are already into the second generation of Bush presidencies, and bad news does come in threes.
I'm not going to bother with Jenna and Barbara Bush. They've received enough attention. (And who wants to revisit their icky "speech" at the GOP convention last year?) So let's turn the spotlight on the other Bush family in politics: the Jeb Bush clan--which just days ago had yet another brush with the law. Interestingly, every member of this family--with the exception of Jeb--has had legal trouble. In 1999, mother/wife Columba falsely stated on a Customs declaration form that she had bought only $500 in goods during a jaunt to Paris. Yet she had purchased $19,000 worth of merchandise while shopping in the City of Lights. Customs agents nabbed her, and she had to pay a $4100 fine (when the maximum penalty could have been a $19,000 fee). But we're looking at the younger Bushes.
* John Ellis Bush, aka Jebby, age 21. This past weekend, he was arrested by Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission agents on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. He was stopped when the agents suspected he was drunk. He then, it seems, did not cooperate with these public servants, for he was arrested on two charges: public intoxication and resisting arrest. In the scuffle, Jebby received a chin injury and was treated at a hospital. He was released on a $2,500 bond. (Question: given George W. Bush's DWI charge and Barbara's and Jenna's underage imbibing issues, is getting into legal trouble over alcohol considered a family rite of passage?)
This was not Jebby's first encounter with the police. Five years ago--a month before the 2000 election--he was caught by security guards while in the act with a 17-year-old female in a Jeep Cherokee parked in a Tallahassee mall. Both were naked from the waist down, except Jebby was wearing his socks. The security guards called in the cops. A police officer arrived on the scene and investigated a possible crime of "sexual misconduct." In the subsequent police report, the officer wrote, "I became aware of the political ties" of the suspect. He then "contacted the watch commander...to inform him of the incident." After one of the security guards talked to Jebby's father--who happened to be the governor of the state--this guard told the on-the-scene cop that he believed that his own supervisor would "pull" the preliminary report. The cop replied that he would still have to complete an incident report. And a report was written. Nothing happened after that. The incident did not become public until two days before the presidential election, when this police report was leaked to the local media and a London newspaper. (Only the London paper went with the story.) According to Artie Brown, one of the two security guards who nabbed Jebby that night, the young Bush spoke to his father after being caught and then remarked, "My dad will fix it."
Don't forget about DAVID CORN's BLOG at www.davidcorn.com. Read recent postings on Hurricane Katrina, Marjorie Williams' honesty in death; new ammo for abortion foes, and other in-the-news matters.
* Noelle, age 28. In January 2002, on the day when her uncle was to deliver his first State of the Union address, Noelle was arrested for allegedly trying to use a fraudulent prescription to obtain the anti-anxiety drug Xanax at a drug store. She was sent not to jail but to drug rehab. Did she receive any preferential treatment? Seven years earlier, a woman with the same name was busted for shoplifting at a mall in Arizona. If the governor's daughter did have a prior criminal record, she would have faced a stricter sentence than assignment to a drug rehabilitation facility. Then in September 2002, a fellow resident in Noelle's drug rehab center anonymously called the Orlando police and complained that the "governor's daughter" had been buying crack. Noelle received a ten-day jail sentence for crack possession. The following August, she was released from rehab and placed in the custody of her parents. Drug charges against her were dismissed.
* George P., 29. On December 31, 1994, George P. Bush, the much-hyped hunk of the Bush family and a fellow mentioned as a future prospect for politics, dropped by the Miami home of a former girlfriend. It was four in the morning and apparently he had not been invited. He broke into the house and began arguing with the woman's father. He then departed. But 15 to 20 minutes later, Bush, a Rice University student, was back. This time he drove his Ford Explorer over the front lawn, causing damage. The father contacted the police, and a Miami-Dade police officer called on George P. and his parents that night. But as the subsequent police report noted, George P. "was not arrested on the scene" because the woman's father did not want to press charges. The report also said that George P. and this woman broke up a year and a half earlier and that Bush "has been a problem ever since."
We all know that all families have their share of troubles. And, of course, it is always tough to grow up in a dynasty. (Al Gore's son was busted for speeding.) But what are the odds that in any family of prominence all three siblings will merit police reports? There is, however, good news for the children of Jeb and Columba Bush. Difficulty with the law was no career obstacle for their uncle, and it seems that with Bush family members there really is no such thing as a permanent record.
Research assistance was provided by Clarisse Profilet.
"What does it mean to be poor in America? We can offer no single description of American poverty. But for many, perhaps most, it means homes with peeling paint, inadequate heating, uncertain plumbing. It means that only the very lucky among the children receive a decent education. It often means a home where some go to bed hungry and malnutrition is a frequent visitor. It means that the most elementary components of the good ife in America--a vacation with kids, an evening out, a comfortable home--are but distant and unreachable dreams, more likely to be seen on the television screen than in the neighborhood. And for almost all the poor it means that life is a constant struggle to obtain the merest necessities of existence, those things most of us take for granted. We can do better."--Paul Wellstone, "If Poverty is the Question," The Nation, April 14, 1997
We can do better. That was Senator Paul Wellstone's abiding belief. Wellstone, who died almost three years ago on October 25, 2002 in a plane crash, along with his wife Sheila and six others, was the rarest of Senators--a man of principle, courage and passion. He fused progressive idealism with a stubbornly pragmatic politics.
Setting out in 1997 to "do everything I possibly can to start the national conversation" about the realities of poverty in America, Wellstone would have found these last days to be what he often called "a teaching moment." (He always remained the former Carleton college political science professor.) And Wellstone did travel the length and breadth of this country--as Robert Kennedy had done thirty years earlier, and as Eleanor Roosevelt did during the Great Depression--talking to the poor in towns, cities and counties coast to coast. He understood that "poverty has many faces." And he wanted to "reveal for many of [his] fellow citizens the face of poverty" as it existed at the end of the last century.
Wellstone would not have been shocked to see the poor and despairing faces millions of Americans saw on their TV screens in these last weeks. And while he would have been the first to deplore the moral scandal of such poverty in the world's richest nation, he would have quickly rolled up his sleeves to help rebuild America and the Gulf region. Wellstone understood that not only was it noble and right, but it was good and smart politics to fight on "behalf of good jobs, a living wage, good healthcare and good education."
He also understood that while we need a strong and activist government, he had spent enough time in Washington "and read enough history to know that [problems of poverty] will not be solved from the top. It was a combination of the civil rights movement and the activist movements of the sixties that generated our last truly national attack on the problems of poverty....[that] in a democracy significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing."
On this third anniversary of Senator Paul Wellstone's tragic death, many of us feel the absence of his energy, purpose and passion. Next week his supporters will unveil a memorial, located less than half a mile from where the airplane accident that killed him went down. As Bill Lofy, Wellstone Action! communications director, describes it, the memorial will be "a place of commemoration and reflection where people can come and learn about Paul and Sheila Wellstone, their lives and the lives of the people lost on the plane crash."
While the Wellstones respected reflection, they wouldn't have wanted too long a moment of silence. They would have been on the Senate floor, or in the Delta, helping with relief efforts, organizing, legislating. And they would have wanted us by their side, working to make this country live up to its unfulfilled promise.
As Wellstone wrote in The Nation, "I think we can do better. That is what Robert Kennedy always said. I think we can do better too. Won't you join me in the effort?"
(To join in the effort, and to support the future of progressive politics, consider a donation on this anniversary to Wellstone Action, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group set up by sons Mark and David Wellstone to train the next generation of progressive leaders.)
John Roberts, the President's nominee to become the seventeenth Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, says that the 1973 high court ruling that guaranteed a woman's right to choose is "settled as a precedent."
Roberts told the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination that the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion is "entitled to respect under principles of stare decisis," the legal standard that long-established court rulings should not be casually challenged.
When pressed, Roberts suggested that only in extraordinary circumstances--when the precedent has proved to be "unworkable" or "difficult to apply"--should the Court even consider overturning settled law.
Since the Roe v. Wade precedent has survived basically intact through three decades of legal and legislative assaults, and since it has not proved to be unworkable or difficult to apply, Roberts has effectively promised the Senate--under oath--that he will not seek as the Chief Justice to outlaw abortion or other reproductive rights.
There can be no question that Roberts, who every observer agrees has an impressive awareness of the law and of politics, knows that this was the impression that he sought to convey with his comments.
Did Roberts seek to deceive the committee? Certainly, many Americans--and at least some senators--remain skeptical regarding this nominee. And, considering the sorry track record of the presidential Administration that has advanced his nomination, that skepticism ought not be dismissed casually.
But Roberts has clearly indicated a position with regard to Roe v. Wade. And that position is that, no matter what his personal opinions, he would not serve on the nation's highest court as the sort of conservative judicial activist who sets out to overturn established law.
It appears at this point that a number of senators who support a woman's right to choose will vote to confirm Roberts's nomination, which in all likelihood will gain the approval of the full Senate. It also appears, from the comments of these senators, that many of them were impressed with Roberts's performance before the Judiciary Committee--even if they would have preferred that the nominee be more forthcoming in response to questioning from Democratic and Republican senators.
While your correspondent continues to hold to the view that there are more than enough reasons to reject Roberts--beginning with his record on voting rights issues and certainly including his radical pro-business track record--he also recognizes political reality. In recognizing reality, however, it is important to set basic standards.
If and when senators who are supportive of reproductive rights cast their votes for Roberts, they ought make note of the nominee's statements to the committee with regard to this issue. Get it in the record again. And then add to the record a notation that a nominee who intentionally lies to the Senate must necessarily be subject to impeachment and removal from office.
These senators should also make it clear that, if John Roberts turns out to be the judicial activist that some fear, and if that activism takes the form of an attack on what he has described as "settled" law, then they will support a move to impeach the man and remove him from office.
If you want to understand how the right debases our political culture, take a peek at Bernard Goldberg's screed 100 People who are Screwing up America (And Al Franken is #37), which, as of yesterday, was number five on Sunday's New York Times bestseller list. The author of the best-selling books Bias and Arrogance has another smash hit on his hands--and it comes with all the vitriol and truth-twisting you'd expect from a man who's profited enormously from his role as cog in the right-wing smear machine.
Goldberg rails against liberal villains who, he claims, are out to weaken the very fabric of America. Who's Number #2? That dangerous radical Arthur Sulzberger, scion of New York's establishment and publisher of the New York Times. According to Goldberg, Sulzberger has "done more than anyone to destroy the confidence of millions of ordinary Americans in the fairness and basic integrity of the so-called mainstream media." He's got to be kidding.
If Goldberg's nasty mud-slinging was confined to one guy or one book, we could shrug it off. But he represents a far wider problem. How do people like Goldberg get away with pouring their toxic waste into our weakened political and media circulatory system? One reason, as Nation columnist Eric Alterman tells us, is the mainstream media's willingness to roll over. The right's truth-twisting pundits and commentators distort and debase our political culture. And they rarely get called on it by the so-called MSM.
Fox News' Bill O'Reilly is one of America's most skilled mudslingers. Talking about Alterman, not that long ago, O'Reilly called Eric a "Fidel Castro confidant." (In this case, O'Reilly had to backtrack quickly when threatened with a defamation suit.) Then there's the inimitable Ann Coulter, who told the New York Observer this past January that "it would be fun to nuke North Korea" and that she was "fed up with hearing about...civilian casualties in Iraq").
In a smart piece posted at TalkingPointsMemoCafe.com, Columbia University journalism professor Todd Gitlin argued that right-wing pundits and commentators should hold themselves to a higher standard. "A sense of decency should not be a sometime thing," he argued. When commentators write or say things that are either "flatly untrue...plain loathsome...or murderous," the slanderers should be exposed and should not be "invited back, and back, to talk shows."
Higher standards of decency and truth in our media are a worthy goal at any time, but in these last days, it's been heartening to see how some mainstream TV journalists have shed their usual reluctance to ask tough questions, tried to hold those in power accountable and raised long ignored issues of poverty and race. It's as if a window has opened. We need to monitor the truth-twisting rightwing media to make sure the window doesn't close, because if we ever needed a caring, aggressive, watchdog press, it's now.
(As for Goldberg, watch for Jack Huberman's forthcoming "100 People Who Are Really Screwing Up America," a spirited liberal riposte to Goldberg's latest screed, to be released by NationBooks.)
"It is time to come home, America. Time to look within our own borders and within our own souls," Sen. Robert Byrd said Tuesday on the Senate floor. "There are many questions to be answered and many missions to accomplish right here on our own soil."
The disaster in New Orleans has reaffirmed that America's ongoing failure to address racial injustice is our great, unaccomplished mission at home. African-Americans still face unequal treatment in housing, education, the workforce, and perhaps most insidiously, the medical care they receive (or fail to receive). Three recently released studies show that black patients are substantially less likely to receive heart bypass surgery, blood vessel repairs, joint replacements, and other important procedures than whites. According to Asish Jha of Harvard Medical School, these studies indicate that "Overall blacks and whites receive very different health care in this country."
Finally, an organization has emerged to confront the crisis of unequal care. This summer, Massachusetts General Hospital announced the creation of the Disparities Solution Center--the first institution specifically dedicated to bridging the health gap. As Dr. Thomas Inui of the Regenstrief Institute for Health Care, told the Boston Globe, "We're really finished with the time in which we need more studies showing disparities exist. Now, we need to show how to close the gaps."
The Center is being headed by Dr. Joseph Bentacourt, whose landmark study, "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial Disparities in Health Care," brought national attention to the issue. With $3 million in initial funding, Bentacourt says the Center will be a "living laboratory" in which doctors, academic researchers, and patients will collaborate on solutions and present their recommendations to hospitals, health care providers, and government officials throughout the country.
This deep-rooted problem won't be solved overnight, but the creation of the Disparities Solutions Center is a crucial first step--the exact sort of national soul searching and forward thinking we need in these devastating times.
We also want to hear from you. Please let us know if you have a sweet victory you think we should cover by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Co-written by Sam Graham-Felsen, a freelance journalist, documentary filmmaker and blogger (www.boldprint.net) living in Brooklyn.
On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters--now known as the "Saint Patrick's Four"--entered a military recruiting center near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building's vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.
For this act of non-violent civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists--sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott--are now charged with conspiracy to impede "by force, intimidation and threat" an officer of the United States along with three lesser offenses. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.
The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favoring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, "Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government." Which is, of course, the idea.
To counter the chilling effect, and turn up the heat, supporters of the Saint Patrick's Four have organized a Citizen's Tribunal in Binghamton the first week of the trial, to address the legal, historical and moral defense for civil resistance to the Iraq war. Scheduled speakers include Medea Benjamin, John Bonifaz, Camilo E. Mejia, Ray McGovern, James Petras and many others and the public is heartily invited to attend.Supporting the Tribunal is one good way to help. And check out other suggestions below for supporting the St. Patrick's Day Four and the rights of all Americans to engage in non-violent civil disobedience.
** Join 50,000 others and sign the letter in support of the St. Patrick's Day Four.
** Donate to the St. Patrick's Day Four's Legal Defense Fund.
** Help spread the word about the trial.
** Support the Citizens' Tribunal on Iraq.
Also, make sure to make plans to be in Washington, DC next weekend for what United for Peace and Justice and other activist groups are expecting will be a massive series of protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for info. (And watch this space for more on these activities.)