Liberals regroup after NARAL ad
It was a rough week for liberals and progressives trying to build a case against Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, whose Senate confirmation hearings begin September 6.
They were knocked on their heels last Friday when NARAL Pro-Choice America, under pressure from both sides of the aisle, pulled a controversial anti-Roberts ad that suggested he sympathized with abortion clinic bombers. The group's chief spokesman subsequently resigned, and just a few days later, anonymous aides on Capitol Hill whispered to Washington Post reporters that Democrats would abandon plans to launch robust opposition to Roberts.
Not so fast, countered liberal and progressive leaders like Ralph Neas, a veteran of civil rights and Supreme Court battles and head of People for the American Way, and Nancy Zirkin of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. By Tuesday night, Sens. Patrick Leahy and Edward M. Kennedy, both powerful liberal members of the Judiciary Committee that will question Roberts, had issued their most strongly worded statements yet about the nominee.
Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said papers released documenting Roberts's time as a government lawyer show him to be an "advocate of policies . . . deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right wing of his party." The documents, Kennedy said, show Roberts "on or beyond the outer fringe of that extreme group eager to take our law and society back in time."
It felt, for the first time since President Bush on July 19 introduced the mild-mannered D.C. Appeals Court judge as his nominee that the battle had been joined. Said Zirkin, on a working vacation in Colorado: The notion that Democrats weren't planning to actively challenge the nomination "really kick-started a lot of folks on the Hill who have been looking at Roberts's record and are troubled by his views on civil rights, privacy, and court-stripping"a conservative effort to bar federal courts from hearing certain cases, including, for example, those involving marriage of same-sex couples. Roberts favored barring the courts from hearing cases on abortion, school prayer and busing.
Conservative groups reacted quickly, calling the senators' characterization of Roberts part of a "fear-and-smear" campaign.
"Senate liberals are obviously getting desperate," said Wendy Long of the Judicial Confirmation Network. But on Wednesday, Neas was sitting over a late morning cup of coffee and smiling.
"The idea that the battle was over and the Democrats had acquiescedwe knew that wasn't true," Neas said. "We made up a lot of lost ground yesterday. We took lemons and made lemonade."
Privately, many Democratic strategists say that blocking Roberts's path to the Supreme Court is unlikely but that the party must use the hearings and their votes to highlight differences between their views and those of the administration and the nomineewith an eye toward battles over future high court vacancies.
And what of NARAL? Its president, Nancy Keenan, declined to be interviewed, but spokesman Ted Miller said the organization "continues to be part of the process, continues to raise questions about John Roberts's record," and expects to come out with a new ad, though nothing is finalized.