Bush’s scary judges

Sunday, October 3, 2004

Never before in this country will the support of ethnic minorities count for so much in a federal election. Blacks and Hispanics now constitute roughly 25 percent of the U.S. population, and these numbers will continue to increase. In order to be re-elected, President George W. Bush needs to gain support from a decent percentage of the minority voting block, at least matching the 35 percent of Hispanic voters that voted for him in 2000.

So how should Bush go about courting the minority vote? The answer is to appoint minorities to important positions on the federal bench. If the traditionally underrepresented at least see faces like theirs in federal district and circuit courts, they’ll be likely to vote favorably for 43, right? By complementing minority judges with the judicial elevations of racist whites, however, Bush is doing nothing more than insulting the intelligence of the same minority population whose approval he seeks. The proof of his surface-level interest in the growing minority population is black and white, as the ideologies of right-wing extremist judicial nominees continue to encroach on the possibility of narrowing educational and socioeconomic gaps that explicitly correlate with race.

According to Bush’s legal and judicial advisors, Janice Rogers-Brown of the California Supreme Court appears to be a wonderful candidate. If unqualified, black and female means “wonderful,” they are right. After two years of unsuccessfully seeking to get the first Hispanic judge on the Washington, D.C., court of appeals, Bush is now pursuing what would be another historical landmark – getting a judge on the bench who has earned among the most dismal rankings of any federal nominee by the American Bar Association.

Numerous groups, including the ABA, have called Rogers-Brown “unqualified” for her lack of respect for established opinion and her frequent tendency to candidly interpolate personal political and philosophical views in rulings. Even her ideologically centrist colleagues have described her written opinion on affirmative action and race-related issues as a “serious distortion of history.”

The old saying goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old.” Bush has done just that. In order to appease all of the ultra-conservative, anti-Roe v. Wade, corporation-favoring women, Bush has nominated old crony Priscilla Owens of the Texas Supreme Court. Through past rulings, the 48-year-old judge has shown herself to be against individual rights and partial to oil and pipeline industries.

In her defense, however, Owens does have two things going for her: reputability and loyalty. Unlike Rogers-Brown, the ABA has given Owens a more favorable assessment. Also unlike Rogers-Brown, Owens was given nearly $9,000 in campaign contributions from ex-energy giant Enron. In a suit brought against Enron by a school district that concerned inventory evaluations for tax purposes, Owens thought it was unnecessary to recuse herself from the proceedings. Not surprisingly, she ended up ruling in favor of the defendant and contributed to the subsequent loss of revenue for the school district. This ideologue has also made clear her views on the issues of abortion, reproductive rights and privacy – she’s not a fan. It is no wonder her nomination has failed to secure a Senate cloture vote four times.

Given the impartial and undeserving nature of the judicial nominees, it is not shocking that the president opted to invoke the rarely utilized power of recess appointments to slip two judges by in a six-week period. The appointments per se are not the problem; it is that Bush used recess periods to elevate judges who were having tremendous difficulty getting out of subcommittees.

After failing to receive senatorial confirmation twice, granting Charles Pickering a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Jan. 16, the day after the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., was a slap in the face to all concerned with civil rights. To have used the nine-day holiday recess to appoint a racially insensitive judge exhibits Bush’s true feelings about a multicultural America.

Not only did Pickering use his legal training to write a law review article that illustrated methods to retain Jim Crow anti-miscegenation statutes, but after completion of law school he entered a private three-person practice with a known segregationist gubernatorial candidate. Even further, during his time on the bench in Mississippi he gave clemency to an individual who pled guilty to burning a cross on the lawn of a mixed-race couple. Because Pickering deemed it a “drunken prank,” he gave the criminal a 27-month sentence instead of the seven-year required minimum.

The federal judiciary is no longer, as Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 78, the “weakest of the three departments of power.” Lifetime tenure allows for their rulings to be felt well beyond the term of any president and most congresspeople, and though recess appointments must ultimately be confirmed by the Senate, the potential election of a more conservative upper chamber presents an unknowable judicial prospect. With the possibility of three new Supreme Court vacancies next term, we must have reputable and unbiased voices as eligible arbitrators to speak out for what America stands for.

Wilfred Codrington ’05 observed his fifth-grade bedtime on his 21st birthday.

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