Alleged 'Memogate' Conspirator Says Fighting Judicial Nominees Is Left's Priority

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:21 PM EDT

Washington ( - Elaine R. Jones, one of the key players in the Senate Judiciary Committee's "Memogate" controversy, reiterated her opposition to President Bush's judicial nominees Wednesday, saying there is nothing more important to liberals than keeping conservative judges off the federal bench.

Jones, the former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, was honored Wednesday night at the liberal Take Back America conference for her leadership in the civil rights arena. Although she didn't mention judicial nominees in her speech, afterward she told about the issue's importance.

In reference to three potential Supreme Court vacancies, Jones said, "there's nothing more important ... nothing more important. I didn't mention it, but others will. That's the strength of it. If one doesn't do it, someone else will pick it up. That's what happens when you're in a movement."

Jones said the Take Back America conference was a special occasion because it brought together liberals of all stripes. She said liberals haven't ever been as united as they are now.

"The beauty of this is that all the people in this room come from different institutions, different organizations," Jones told . "It brings them to the table. They're all in the same room, which is not something we've had."

In her speech, Jones railed against the education system in America and the war on drugs. She said it was disgraceful that 50 years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision that minorities were still struggling to make gains in education.

The awards gala represented Jones's latest venture into the public spotlight since the "Memogate" allegations surfaced. She stepped down as president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) on May 1 at a time when the organization was preparing to celebrate the Brown ruling's 50th anniversary on May 17.

When Jones announced her decision to retire in January, conservatives speculated that it might have something to do with an ethics complaint filed against her with the Virginia State Bar. The Center for Individual Freedom and three other conservative groups wanted Jones to be reprimanded for her alleged role in stalling one of President Bush's judicial nominees.

According to an April 17, 2002, memo written by an aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Jones allegedly requested a delay in the confirmation of Julia Smith Gibbons to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At the time, the LDF was defending the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy before that same court.

The Kennedy memo outlined Jones's concern: "The thinking is that the current 6th Circuit will sustain the affirmative action program, but if a new judge with conservative views is confirmed before the case is decided, that new judge will be able, under 6th Circuit rules, to review the case and vote on it."

Gibbons eventually was confirmed by the Senate, but not until two months after the 6th Circuit had issued a ruling in one of the University of Michigan cases. Both cases eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the use of affirmative action in higher education.

Jones' critics have said her attempt to delay Gibbons' confirmation was an effort to manipulate the outcome of the affirmative action cases.

When previously asked about her role in the affair, Jones declined to comment. Kennedy also dodged questions about the memo when confronted by with questions at an April 7 press conference.

Jones' unwillingness to explain the matter has frustrated conservatives. Jeffrey Mazzella, executive director of the Center for Individual Freedom, said last month, "Clearly the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has no intention of responding to one of the most shameful episodes in its history."

David Almasi, director of the black leadership group Project 21, added, "The fact that Jones resigned so soon after the [ethics] complaint was filed, in a year in which the NAACP's legal arm hopes to be showered with praise related the golden anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, shows our complaint had merit."

See Earlier Story:
President of NAACP Legal Group Won't Discuss Role in 'Memogate'
(April 29, 2004)

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