On May 9, George W. Bush announced his federal judicial nominees—among the 11 were 3 men of color, 3 white women, and 2 former Clinton picks. Not bad, right? Wrong. Take a closer look and you’ll find four ultra-right-wingers and five conservatives, though no one really knows much about them because Dubya cut the American Bar Association (ABA) out of the vetting process, leaving Democrats scrambling for information. Bush chucked the ABA review that has been in place since President Eisenhower because the group was considered too liberal. In its stead, he has welcomed input from the Federalist Society, a conservative legal think tank. Several of Bush’s nominees are members of that society. But there is a God. And she instructed Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords to defect from the Republican party and become an Independent, siding with the Dems on many issues. This shifted the leadership of the evenly divided Senate to the Democrats, who now have a chance to deep-six these appointments.
Indeed, after Jeffords leapt to the middle of the Senate aisle, Bush did not nominate ultra-conservative California Representative Chris Cox—who lacked the support of both senators from his home state—to the circuit courts.
Despite massive vacancies in the less influential district courts, Bush’s nominations focus on the federal circuit courts, the most powerful appeals courts outside the U.S. Supreme Court, which are lifetime appointments. “Bush went straight for the top,” says Elliot Mincberg of the left-leaning advocacy group, People For the American Way. “He is clearly pushing an agenda to tilt the courts far right.” Bush’s most conservative nominees are Terrence Boyle, Michael McConnell, Priscilla Owen, and Jeffrey Sutton. Owen and McConnell are the most anti-choice. Owen, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, wasn’t appointed by then-Governor Bush, but she’s even more conservative than the justices he did appoint. Last year, she dissented from the majority to argue in favor of parental consent laws. McConnell opposes Roe v. Wade and is, says Mincberg, “sometimes to the right of Scalia and Thomas.” Sutton deplores federal protections for civil rights and won a case before the Supreme Court this year which held that the Americans With Disabilities Act cannot be applied against state governments. And Boyle, a former aide to Senator Jesse Helms, is a major proponent of racist redistricting in North Carolina.
And just before the Democrats took control of the Senate, then-Majority Leader Trent Lott pushed through a vote on Ted Olson for solicitor general. Olson, Bush’s lawyer in the election case against Al Gore and a member of the Federalist Society, was narrowly confirmed.
Though Democratic senators may be able to muster the votes to block lifetime judicial appointments, the real danger lies in Bush’s stealth tactics. “Everything Bush is doing is deceptive and undercover,” says Monica Hobbs of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy. “He has put forth nominees who seem diverse and aren’t all loudly anti-choice, and that makes it hard for members of the progressive movement to state why they oppose them.”
Learn about Bush’s nominees through People For the American Way, 2000 M Street, NW, Suite 400, Washington, D.C. 20036; tel: (202) 467-4999 or www.pfaw.org. Get your state senators and Senate Democrats to stop Bush.