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National NOW Times >> Spring 2002 >> Article

Our Courts at Risk: Senate Has Power to Stop Ultra-Conservative Bush Nominees

by Linda Berg, Political Director

With eight of the 13 federal circuit courts of appeals already dominated by anti-women judges, activists in both parties are preparing for a cataclysmic clash over George W. Bush's judicial nominations.

As of Jan. 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee has held 12 hearings on Bush's nominees, resulting in 30 confirmations. However, there are 99 federal court vacancies and a preoccupied Senate charged with confirming new judges.

NOW activists will protest in any weather when the nomination of an anti-abortion judge or Supreme Court Justice threatens women's rights. Republicans are urging quick Senate confirmation of many right-wing judges, using "national security" as their pretext for glossing over the nominees' hostility toward women's rights. These are the same Republicans who, hypocritically, blocked so many of President Clinton's judicial nominees on ideological grounds.

Meanwhile, Democratic Senators have been unwilling to expend political capital opposing more than a few of Bush's conservative nominees. And many commentators are silent, perhaps fearful of being called "unpatriotic" for opposing the President during wartime. NOW has declared this unprecedented onslaught of right-wing judicial nominees an emergency that threatens the rights of women.

"The courts should be the guardians of our rights," said Terry O'Neill, Treasurer of NOW's Political Action Committees. "But political and religious extremists have taken aim at the courts in order to dismantle those rights."

Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has thus far held up the nominations of some of the most egregious candidates; however, we expect the battle lines to be drawn very soon.

The fate of reproductive rights, civil rights, lesbian rights, disability rights and so many other gains feminists have fought for in the past 35 years will be in the hands of these judges. Appointed for life, most of these judges will sit on the bench for decades after Bush leaves office.

We are also facing the ever-growing threat of a Supreme Court vacancy, and Bush will surely choose a nominee from his stable of right-wing judicial ideologues. Just one new Supreme Court Justice could endanger the future of Roe v. Wade.

"The current round of appointments could result in nearly every circuit being dominated by right wing judges—and with the circuits in conservative alignment, fewer cases will make it to the Supreme Court at all," said NOW President Kim Gandy. "It is crucial that we do everything in our power to keep women's rights opponents off the bench at every level."

Bush has the opportunity to shape the U.S. judiciary for years to come. Please contact your senators and insist that they refuse to confirm any judges not supportive of women's rights.

Due to the constantly changing status of judicial nominees and the volume of information, we are posting more extensive information online. To get profiles of selected nominees and the latest updates on Senate hearings, click on the button on NOW's home page or go directly to http://www.now.org/issues/legislat/nominees/index.html.

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