NAACP Legal Defense Fund Isn't Partisan, Says New President

By Robert B. Bluey | July 7, 2008 | 8:30pm EDT

Washington ( - The incoming president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund says the organization doesn't "get involved in partisan politics," despite its strident opposition to some of President Bush's judicial nominees, two of whom are black.

Theodore M. Shaw, who will become the group's president on May 1, said he didn't think the judicial nomination and confirmation process should be partisan. Yet, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) stood alongside People For the American Way, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the National Organization for Woman in opposing two black judicial nominees.

"The Legal Defense Fund, of course, is a 501(c)(3) non-profit institution," Shaw told a crowd at the National Press Club on Wednesday. "We do not get involved in partisan politics.

"One of the most significant things for us is the composition of the federal bench," he added. "That should not be a partisan issue. It should be an issue about people who are fair-minded, open-minded."

Shaw has served as the LDF's associate director-counsel for the past 11 years, at a time when the group opposed President Bush's nominations of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Claude Allen, both of whom are black.

Those nominations are still languishing in the Senate, where Democrats have blocked their confirmations. Black conservatives have rallied to the defense of Brown and Allen, accusing Democrats of obstructionism and unfair treatment of both nominees.

The LDF also joined forces with traditionally liberal groups to oppose Miguel Estrada's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. After Senate Democrats blocked Estrada's confirmation, the former Justice Department lawyer withdrew himself from consideration.

"To say the organization does not get involved in partisan politics is laughable," said Jeffrey Mazzella, executive director of the Center for Individual Freedom, a group that has criticized the LDF's involvement in the judicial nomination process.

Shaw made the comments about the LDF's nonpartisanship at a luncheon celebrating the upcoming 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. The luncheon also served as a farewell for Elaine R. Jones, the LDF's president for the past 11 years.

Jones has been embroiled in an ethics flap for allegedly asking Sen. Ted Kennedy to delay the confirmation of Julia Smith Gibbons, nominated by Bush to serve on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. An April 17, 2002, memo written by a Kennedy aide outlines Jones' request.

At the time, the LDF was defending the University of Michigan's affirmative action policy before that same 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Jones' critics have said her attempt to delay Gibbons' confirmation was an effort to manipulate the outcome of the affirmative action cases.

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.

Shaw argued on behalf of the LDF when the 6th Circuit was hearing the affirmative action cases. And during his three-year stint at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s, Shaw sat on a committee that drafted the affirmative action plan, Jones said in her introductory remarks.

"The Michigan decisions were some of the most important cases since Brown involving civil rights and the Supreme Court," Shaw said on Wednesday. "And although people have characterized the Michigan decisions as a mixed result, there really was not much mixed about it. It really was an unqualified victory for affirmative action."

And as for future nominees Bush might send before the Senate, Shaw said he doesn't necessarily have a problem with judges who have conservative views.

"[From] my experience as a litigator," Shaw said, "the best judges for me to be before, were judges who might be mildly skeptical, maybe conservative instinctively, but who were fair-minded and open-minded. What I have a problem with is judges who are ideologues on the bench. I think on both sides of the aisle, people have problems with that."

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

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