The State of Indiana owes me some money.
When I walked into the town hall meeting last week on the future of the U.S. Supreme Court, a meeting sponsored by the Indiana Coalition on Judicial Nominees, I thought I was prepared. Way back in 1985, I had paid Indiana University good money — money I earned by washing dishes at a sorority house, among other jobs — to learn constitutional law. I know my commerce clause from my contract clause from my case-or-controversy requirement. If pressed, I could even break down the decisions in Marbury v. Madison and Lochner v. New York.
So imagine my surprise when none of those items came up for discussion. Instead, I heard a plea from Jan Czarnik of the People for the American Way to write letters to the editor and to make sure young people are registered to vote. I heard Sheila Grossman of the National Council of Jewish Women say that U.S. senators will respond to public pressure, and former Congressman Andy Jacobs say that vacancies on the Supreme Court are usually chosen in November, the month when presidential ballots are cast.
Cover your ears, Justice Cardozo. These folks are talking about black-robed constitutional jurisprudence as if it was just another scrimmage field in the unending game of political football.
They are right, of course.
Any illusions that the United States Supreme Court is not a political animal should have been dispelled by Bush v. Gore. When Republican-appointed justices supposedly committed to states’ rights trampled over a state Supreme Court decision interpreting state law, they simultaneously exposed the fraud of federalist jurisprudence and delivered us a president who couldn’t spell judicial restraint if you spotted him judicial restrain.
Bush long ago cited far-right Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas as his judicial models. Since then, Bush has made 269 nominations to the federal bench, delivering on the pledge that IUPUI professor Sheila Kennedy says the president made to his base of voters in the far right wing of the party.
“Rather than conservative, these potential judges are radical,” Kennedy told the town hall meeting. “They are far more willing than most citizens to give government the right to regulate our private lives.
“Our right to privacy, free speech, religious freedom, reproductive rights and the future of public education will be addressed by these judges, for good or for ill.”
When you look at the potential judges Bush is putting up so far, the meter tilts pretty heavily toward the ill.
Bush is nominating people like William Pryor, the Alabama attorney general, whom he chose for the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Pryor told the Senate Judiciary Committee that abortion is murder and that Roe v. Wade is “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” In defense of posting the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, Pryor has said, “God has chosen, through his son Jesus Christ, this time and this place for all Christians … to save our country and save our courts.”
If your name is Feinstein or Youssef, or if you believe in the concept of church-state separation, I don’t think Judge Pryor would be a welcome sight on the bench.
So far, Senate Democrats have blocked Bush’s nomination of Charles Pickering, Pricilla Owen and Miguel Estrada to the federal appeals courts, but 132 other Bush federal court nominees have gone through, with that many more in the pipeline for confirmation. Most follow the Scalia-Thomas tradition of Federalist Society alumni who crowed about judicial restraint when the Warren Court dared to open schools and voting booths to people of color. But now that these so-called conservatives hold the gavel, they have shown about as much restraint as Rush Limbaugh at a Sizzler buffet.
The Rehnquist Supreme Court has struck down federal legislation at a higher rate than any other court in the last half-century, including the Warren Court. Turns out these judges were using the Federalist Papers as philosopical cover for a right-wing agenda.
Now, The Supreme Court is just one or two votes away from significant changes to the law on civil rights, public education, religious liberty and, of course, reproductive rights. The current justices break down 6 to 3 to preserve Roe v. Wade. It has been nearly nine years since the last Supreme Court vacancy, and we are due for several Supreme Court openings very soon.
Advocates on both sides know what this means. “Roe is in jeopardy,” says Sheila Grossman of the National Council of Jewish Women. So her group and dozens of other progressive organizations support filibustering senators and are already plotting their support for some Democrat — any Democrat — who can beat Bush in 2004. In the meantime, Pat Robertson is calling for coordinated prayer for the “retirement” of the six non-radical judges on the court.
Which suggests to me that I sat through hours of Socratic dialogue and then a wrist-cramping exam at the IU Law School for nothing. The professor was quite entertaining, but my tuition dollars were wasted on discussion of the 11th Amendment and substantive due process. If I really wanted to understand constitutional law, I would have been better off with a survey course on Machiavelli.
Or Karl Rove.
Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared - www.nuvo.net
The Indiana Coalition on Judicial Nominees includes the groups People for the American Way, the National Council of Jewish Women, Planned Parenthood and other progressive organizations. For more information, check ... or call 317-925-5642.