July 01, 2005

Why vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court matter.

The news of Sandra Day O'Connor's resignation from the Supreme Court sent this magpie's memory back about thirty years. We remember sitting in a politics class at the University of California, and hearing our professor suggest that Richard Nixon would get his revenge on the country for having been forced to resign. That revenge was his appointment of William Rehnquist as a Supreme Court justice.

Rehnquist, the professor said, would be a dependable right-wing vote on the Court until sometime in the 21st century. Truer words have rarely been spoken. Not only is Rehnquist still alive and kicking in 2005, but his elevation to Chief Justice in the mid-1980s dramatically increased his ability to affect the direction of the Court's decisions.

With the resignation of Sandra Day O'Connor, Dubya and the Republican right have a chance to end the current era in which neither liberals or conservative justices could muster certain majorities on important issues. And if, as expected, Chief Justice William Rehnquist resigns before Dubya's presidency ends, Dubya could have the chance to reshape the complexion of the Court in a way that no president has had in generations. Given the nature of the prez's recent nominees to the federal appeals courts, we can probably expect nominees who share the hard-right judicial views of current Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

To help us get an idea of how much trouble a right-wing Court could be, People for the American Way has compiled a list of rights and protections that could be at risk. Here's part of it:

Civil Liberties

Indefinite detention: Two more votes with Scalia and Thomas would have reversed the Courtís 2004 decision that detainees at Guantanamo can present claims challenging their indefinite detention in federal court. Justice Thomas would even have upheld indefinite detention of U.S. citizens on American soil without any rights.

Free speech: Just two more justices like Thomas and Scalia would allow government to significantly limit free speech by charging controversial speakers large permit and police protection fees.

Legal aid: One more vote with Scalia and Thomas would have reversed a decision that has allowed federally-funded legal aid attorneys to continue helping clients challenge welfare laws that the clients feel are unfair.

Civil Rights

Affirmative action and equal opportunity: Just one more far-right vote on the Supreme Court would completely eliminate affirmative action and restrict other means of promoting equal opportunity.

Voting rights: Just one more right-wing vote on the Court would make it impossible to challenge even blatantly partisan political gerrymandering. Current far-right justices Scalia and Thomas want to go even further and overturn 30 years of Supreme Court decisions that protect minority voting rights.

Job and other discrimination: Just a few more far-right votes on the Court would make it much harder to prove or remedy bias based on race, age, gender, disability and other factors. For example, it could become impossible for state employees to address violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act. [...]

Women's Rights

Right to privacy and reproductive freedom: A Scalia-Thomas majority would overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate a womanís constitutional right to reproductive freedom. They believe there is no constitutional right to privacy, and would allow states to ban abortion without exception. Furthermore, hospitals would be allowed to test pregnant women without their knowledge or consent for suspected drug use and provide police with the results.

Discrimination against women: Just two more justices like Scalia and Thomas would have allowed sex discrimination during jury selection and prevented state employees from suing for damages under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Such right-wing justices would also make it harder to prove gender-based discrimination on the job and eliminate affirmative action for women under federal statutes.

Sexual harassment on the job or in school: A few more justices like Scalia and Thomas would make winning justice in the courts more difficult for victims of sexual harassment. They would drastically limit employer responsibility for harassment by supervisors and reduce protection against abusive or hostile work environments. Also, one more Scalia-Thomas vote would undoubtedly eliminate any federal protection for public school students against sexual harassment by other students.

The rest of the list is here.

PFAW also has a detailed report on how the right-wing judicial agenda of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia threaten the legal protections and constitutional rights. A PDF of that report can be downloaded here.

Posted by Magpie at July 1, 2005 12:32 PM | Law/Justice | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

Dear magpie . . .

Upon hearing of the news of an OíConnor resignation, I too reflected upon the future of the courts.

I thought of Bush and his Battalion and how they must be thrilled. They now have an opportunity to alter the Supreme Court decisively. I wrote a treatise. My missive addresses what the administration might do, why, and how these will affect us all.

I invite you to visit my site, read my reflections, and share your thoughts.

Betsy L. Angert Be-Think

Posted by: Betsy L. Angert at July 2, 2005 03:48 PM