Liberal Groups Unite against Bush Judicial Nominees

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - One of the largest ad hoc coalitions of liberal special interest groups assembled in recent history joined together in Washington Monday to "warn" Americans that President Bush is trying to "pack the federal courts" with judges who agree with his conservative beliefs.

"The future of the judiciary is the most important domestic issue facing the nation," argued Ralph Neas, president of the ultra-liberal People for the American Way. "By the end of 2004, the entire federal judiciary - all 13 circuit courts and the Supreme Court - could be controlled by the appointees of the Republican Party."

Neas and his group, along with a handful of other liberal special interests, spearheaded much of the opposition to the administration's nominees in the 107th Congress. That effort is now organized and has grown.

Neas joined with the leaders of other liberal groups to announce a "coordinated nationwide campaign" to block the president's judicial nominees based, not on their legal education, experience or records, but solely on their perceived positions on issues - such as the "right" to an abortion, tort reform, union activism, so-called "Affirmative Action" quotas and the environment - which are at odds with the groups' admitted political agendas.

Nominees Have Opposed Groups' Agendas in the Past

"Not a single one of the president's appellate court nominees has demonstrated any hint, not a hint of support for [legalized abortion]," said Kate Michelman, president of the newly renamed National Abortion Rights Action League, now called NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Marcia Greenberger of the National Women's Law Center - a group that supports federally mandated, gender-based participation and funding quotas in education, athletics and other areas - believes many of the president's judicial nominees are "hostile to women's basic rights and legal protections.

"Never has the balance and the fairness of the federal judiciary been in greater jeopardy than it is today," Greenberger complained. "The new Senate leadership is racing to confirm judges for lifetime appointments without a chance to give fair consideration to their records and their judicial philosophy."

Most of those judicial candidates were nominated by the White House on May 9, 2001, and were either defeated on party-line votes or never given hearings last year by the Democrats in control of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

NAACP Washington Office Director Hillary Shelton accused President Bush's nominees of wanting to "eliminate federal protections against all forms of discrimination.

"Today's judicial nominees - like Priscilla Owens [sic], Jeffrey Sutton, Carolyn Kuhl, Terrence Boyle and Miguel Estrada - are proven political ideologues with a right-wing extremist agenda to reverse hard-fought civil rights advances," Shelton said, referring to Affirmative Action quotas.

Labor unions are speaking out against President Bush, said Jon Hiatt, general counsel for the AFL-CIO, "because of the threat many of these nominees pose to the rights of working families." Hiatt admitted that unions often turn to federal courts to enforce a union's interpretation of a contract when local juries rule against them in state courts.

Senate Democrats Should Filibuster Conservative Nominees

Michelman said the coalition's mission of keeping conservatives off the federal bench "warrants the use of every available political, persuasive and procedural tool." Several of the speakers hinted that they expect Senate Democrats to filibuster the confirmation vote of any conservative nominee approved by the Judiciary Committee.

"We will vigorously oppose President Bush's plan to pack the federal courts with right-wing, ideologically extremist nominees who are clearly outside of the moderate American mainstream," said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR).

Despite the numerous calls to impede the nominees based solely on their perceived political ideologies, Henderson concluded the press conference with what sounded like a plea for fairness.

"We're going to call on every senator to step up to the awesome responsibility of evaluating these nominees on their merits," Henderson said.

Libertarians, Conservatives Say Liberals Have 'Crossed the Line'

Ian Walters with the American Conservative Union told Monday afternoon that nominees being considered on their merits would be a welcome change from when Democrats controlled the Judiciary Committee.

"We've always known that they opposed the president's nominees because they fail the liberal litmus test," Walters said. "Instead of pretending that this isn't about ideology and engaging in record distortion and character assassination, what [the liberal groups] have done is come out and say that these judges are conservative, and they're going to oppose them on those grounds."

Walters noted that all of the nominees targeted by liberals for defeat so far have been rated "well qualified" by the American Bar Association. That rating was once considered the "gold standard" for approval of a judicial nominee by Senate Democrats.

"They've crossed the line," Walters said of basing confirmation votes on politics. "It's a notion unacceptable to us."

The notion would be unacceptable to the founding fathers as well, according to Roger Pilon, vice president for legal affairs at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank.

"This is a monumental undermining of the fundamental principles of this country," Pilon said. "They want judges who will read the law politically rather than in its own terms."

The coalition, Pilon believes, is engaged in "an effort to politicize the judiciary in a way that we have never seen before."

"The idea is that judges are supposed to act like legislators," Pilon said. "Well, if that's the case, why do you need a judiciary at all? Just turn everything over to the legislature and get rid of the judiciary. Or turn the judiciary into just one more legislative branch."

Pilon said the liberal activists have forgotten "that the Constitution stands for neutrality."

"We're dealing here with ideologues of the first order," Pilon observed, "who are branding the Bush nominees as ideologues."

The only thing those nominees are guilty of, Pilon concluded, is vigorously defending their clients as attorneys and objectively applying the law, in the case of judges who have been nominated to higher positions.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings Wednesday on the nominations of Deborah Cook, an Ohio Supreme Court Justice, and Jeffrey Sutton to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and John G. Roberts, Jr., who is nominated to the Circuit Court for the District of Columbia. The committee will vote Thursday on the nomination of Miguel Estrada, the first Hispanic nominee to the D.C. Circuit.

The liberal coalition opposes all four nominees based on their allegedly conservative judicial philosophies.

E-mail a news tip to Jeff Johnson.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.