LCCR Announces Opposition to Roberts Nomination
Testifying today before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings on the nomination of John Roberts to the position of chief justice of the United States, Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition, will announce the coalition’s opposition to Roberts’ confirmation.
Stating that Roberts “failed to distance himself from the anti-civil rights positions he has advocated,” Henderson will tell the Committee that “all evidence indicates that Judge Roberts would use his undeniably impressive legal skills to bring us back to a country that most of us wouldn’t recognize: where states’ rights trump civil rights; where the federal courts or Congress can see discrimination, but are powerless to remedy it. This is not the America in which most Americans want to live.”
Mr. Henderson’s complete oral statement follows:
Good Morning. My name is Wade Henderson and I’m the executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The Leadership Conference is the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition, and has coordinated the national legislative campaigns on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957. The Leadership Conference’s 190 member organizations represent persons of color, women, children, organized labor, individuals with disabilities, older Americans, major religious groups, gays and lesbians and civil liberties and human rights groups. It’s a privilege to represent the civil rights community in addressing the Committee today.
Based on reasons I will highlight here today, discussed at greater length in my written testimony; and after a careful review of John Roberts’ available record, including his testimony before this Committee, the Leadership Conference is compelled to oppose his confirmation to the position of chief justice of the United States.
In the last several days of testimony, Judge Roberts has failed to distance himself from the anti-civil rights positions he has advocated. We have heard nothing demonstrating his commitment to ensuring that the federal government will continue to play a strong role in protecting the civil and human rights of all Americans.
To the contrary, all evidence indicates that Judge Roberts would use his undeniably impressive legal skills to bring us back to a country that most of us wouldn’t recognize: where states’ rights trump civil rights; where the federal courts or Congress can see discrimination, but are powerless to remedy it. This is not the America in which most Americans want to live.
As we’ve seen over the past two weeks in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when the federal government’s role is diminished, the least among us suffer most.
Our nation fought a civil war over the meaning of equality in our Constitution and the role of the federal government in ensuring that equality; and then engaged in a great debate about the power of the federal government to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
Reconstruction failed, and African Americans were returned to a position of near servitude because those who advocated for weak federal power won. It wasn’t until decades later, when the Court outlawed state-sponsored segregation in Brown v. the Board of Education, followed by the enactment of a series of civil rights statutes by Congress in the 1960s that are now the bedrock of our national commitment to equality of opportunity, that the federal government stepped in as a champion of equal justice under law.
However, in recent years, we’ve seen the rise of a political movement that is an eerie parallel to the post-Reconstruction period.
Today, there are those who, in the name of “judicial restraint,” advocate a federal retreat in the area of civil rights. While our Constitution speaks of fundamental rights, some oppose the federal courts or Congress using the Constitution to protect individuals against violations of those rights.
John Roberts has written that federal courts should not be empowered to invalidate “widely accepted state practices”, even if such practices prevent African Americans and others from having equal opportunity in voting. If his view had prevailed, our country’s voting rights revolution would never have happened. Would Judge Roberts have approved of poll taxes or literacy tests because those were “widely accepted practices?”
Despite the strong recommendation from a very conservative member of the Reagan administration’s civil rights team, John Roberts advised against intervention in a sex discrimination case against the Kentucky prison system, contending that discriminatory treatment of men and women in the prison’s vocational program was “reasonable” in light of “tight prison budgets.” Would Judge Roberts then apply the same argument to equal educational opportunities for women generally? Could states, in the name of saving money, refuse to provide equal health services to men and women?
In John Roberts’ view, Congress could exclude all school desegregation cases from the jurisdiction of the federal courts. This is, in effect, a pre-Brown vision that fits squarely into the objective of preventing the federal courts from fulfilling the promise of the 14th Amendment.
As many commentators have made clear, John Roberts is a gifted and intelligent lawyer and advocate. But that is not the test for determining whether he is fit to lead the highest court in the land. Rather, the test is whether John Roberts has demonstrated he is committed to the fundamental principles on which our country was founded, and whether his vision of America matches the expectations of mainstream Americans.
John Roberts has failed this test. Therefore, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights has no choice but to oppose his confirmation. America can and should do better.