Supreme Court: Precedent for Blocking Roberts’ Confirmation

7-30-05, 8:45 am

As more information about Supreme Court nominee John Roberts’ record is made available, it is increasingly clear that the Senate judiciary committee would be well within its rights to block confirmation. The White House packaged Roberts as a non-controversial, non-ideological nominee and announced its expectation of confirmation quickly, as early as next month.

But a precedent used by the Republican-controlled Senate in 1985 that specifically relates to Roberts’ early career points to the importance of careful scrutiny of any nominee. In this case, the Senate must not shirk its Constitutional 'advice and consent' responsibility in favor of partisanship or in an effort to avoid embarrassing the President.

In 1985, the Republican-led Senate Judiciary Committee rejected the nomination of William Bradford Reynolds for associate attorney general. The nomination was made by Ronald Reagan. The committee found that Reynolds, as assistant attorney general for civil rights, repeatedly acted in defiance of civil rights laws as passed by Congress and interpreted by the Supreme Court. Recent press accounts indicate that John Roberts worked with Reynolds in this attempt to undermine two decades of civil rights enforcement policies.

The Senate’s reasoning in that case was that it could disqualify a nominee based on that person’s activist role in undermining the Constitution. It just so happens that John G. Roberts seems to have played an active role in creating the conditions under which the US Senate disqualified William Bradford Reynolds.

This Republicans’ actions in the Reynolds matter is important both as a general principle and in this specific case. If Roberts is found to oppose laws written by Congress and upheld and interpreted as Constitutional by the US Supreme Court, and there is mounting evidence to show that this is the case, he must be disqualified. Further, if the Republicans disqualified Reynolds on these grounds with whom Roberts worked and may have aided in developing positions found to disqualify Reynolds, the Republicans have to be consistent and disqualify Roberts as well. News reports based on records from Roberts’ days in the Reagan White House and Justice Department paint a picture of an ideological militant who pushed hard to move policy and the law even further to the right than some of his ultraconservative superiors.

From 1981 to 1993, the Reagan and first Bush administrations did everything possible to turn back the clock on civil rights laws and federal protections. If successful, the Reagan-Bush policies would have permitted the federal funding of discrimination against women, minorities, people with disabilities, and older Americans. They would have allowed tax-exempt status to institutions that discriminate on the basis of race. They tried to block a strong and effective Voting Rights Act extension, to gut affirmative action, to block the South Africa sanctions law, to undermine the nation’s equal employment opportunity laws, to eliminate a constitutional right to privacy, and to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction over cases pertaining to abortion, school prayer, and school desegregation remedies.

Memos authored by John Roberts during his work for the Reagan administration make it clear that he was a key figure in preparing and legitimizing this continuous right-wing assault on well-established civil rights protections. He has never been non-ideological or above partisanship, as his carefully crafted White House public relations image suggests. Roberts was always at the center of major controversial civil rights battles during the Reagan and Bush administrations. He neither called for reasonable positions that supported existing law or decisions made by the Supreme Court. In fact, his arguments are based on ideological positions rather than on established Constitutional law.

The emerging record revealed by memos of Roberts’ work in the Reagan and Bush administrations underscores the need for a thorough examination of John Roberts’ full record. Supporters of the call for such an examination have argued that 'before deciding whether to give him a lifetime seat on the nation’s highest court, the Senate has a constitutional duty to ascertain exactly what John Roberts was doing from 1981-1986 and 1989-1993.'

Roberts himself, says the People for the American Way, has the responsibility to discuss his record and judicial philosophy openly and fully during his confirmation hearing. No one has the right to a seat on the Supreme Court, says a spokesperson at . It’s up to Roberts and the administration to make the case. And it is up to the Senate to make a thorough examination.

What would you ask Roberts if you had the chance to sit in on the confirmation hearings? What do you want the committee members to ask him? Let the Senators know at this website.