Statement of Nancy Zirkin, Deputy Director, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Opposing Michael McConnell to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit

Media 09.17,02

Good Morning. I am Nancy Zirkin, Deputy Director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights – a coalition of over 180 national organizations dedicated to the protection and advancement of civil rights and liberties. Standing with me today are not only LCCR members such as People for the American Way, but also leaders of other communities such as the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of organizations dedicated to advancing the cause of justice for all Americans, NARAL, one of the nation’s leading organizations dedicated to protecting a woman’s right to choose, and Americans United, which has been a vigilant watchdog guarding the constitutional guarantee of the separation of church and state. Today these coalitions, organizations and diverse communities join together in opposing the confirmation of Michael McConnell to the United States Court Of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

We strongly believe that the composition of the federal judiciary is a civil rights issue of profound importance to all Americans because the individuals charged with dispensing justice in our society have a direct impact on civil rights protections for all. As such, the federal judiciary must be perceived by the public as an instrument of justice, and the individuals who are selected for this branch of government must be the embodiment of fairness and impartiality.

Also, circuit courts play an increasingly important role in our federal judiciary. The Supreme Court hears only about 80 cases each year. The federal appellate courts hear tens of thousands of cases. The circuit courts are, therefore, for most people, the courts of last resort. Consequently, nominees to these courts merit close scrutiny.

Many in the press and in the Senate would have you believe that the groups standing before you today, as well as other groups, are opposed to Bush’s nominees because they are conservative. In truth, many if not all of President Bush’s nominations to the federal bench have been conservative, and we have opposed very few of the 127 people who have been nominated to the federal bench over the past 19 months.

What we have opposed – and what we will continue to oppose — is the packing of the federal courts with extreme right wing ideologues, such as Charles Pickering, Priscilla Owen and Dennis Shedd, who have demonstrated that they will use their own ideology–and not legal precedent–to decide cases, particularly on issues important to women, racial and religious minorities, and consumers. We know that the communities that we represent and the American people generally want moderate federal judges who will fairly interpret the law based on judicial precedent and common sense –not activist judges who will decide cases based on their personal ideological goals to seriously harm civil rights protections for all Americans.

There is no question that Professor McConnell is an accomplished academic and an effective advocate, whose intellect and productivity is admired by a wide range of lawyers and law professors. This support does not eradicate the extremist views that he has articulated on civil rights and civil liberties.

Further, there is serious reason to question his ability to impartially follow the law in cases where he has strong personal views. In the reports and statements issued today in opposition to Professor McConnell’s confirmation, many of you will likely be surprised at how extreme his views are and how candid he is about his disdain for certain seminal precedents of the Supreme Court. We believe that, if confirmed, Professor McConnell will lead the way in curtailing our basic civil rights and civil liberties.
Professor McConnell’s record as a law professor and zealous advocate is particularly troubling in many areas important to our communities. He has supported efforts to limit congressional authority to protect civil rights and has argued for weakening both statutory and constitutional protections against discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation. For example, McConnell strongly disagreed with the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision in Bob Jones University v. United States, which held that the IRS may deny tax-exempt status to a religious university with racially discriminatory policies, such as – as in this case – a ban on inter-racial dating. He has also spoken out in opposition to the principle of “one person one vote.” McConnell’s writings clearly demonstrate active opposition to key civil rights principles.

In his writing, Professor McConnell has also expressed a disdain for precedent, along with support for a kind of “judicial nullification” that threatens our system of lower court’s following established precedent. He has called the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade an “embarrassment” of “questionable legitimacy” and has expressed admiration for a district court judge who refused to apply the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act because the defendants did not act with “bad purpose,” an element not found in the statute.

Given McConnell’s disdain for judicial precedent, his hostility toward basic civil rights principles, and his record as a zealous activist for conservative causes, we are compelled to oppose his confirmation.

Thank you.