Republicans Played Race and Gender Cards
By: George E. Curry
Originally posted 5/23/2005
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Leading up to the last-minute compromise that averted a showdown Tuesday over whether Senate Republicans can circumvent long-standing Senate rules and prevent Democrats from using filibusters against controversial judicial nominees, Republican strategists devised a clever and ultimately successful plan. They decided to advance the judicial nominations of Janice Rogers Brown, an African-American from California, and Priscilla Owen, a White woman from Texas, and then accuse anyone who opposed them as being racist or sexist.
In the end, Democrats and Republicans came up with a compromise that allows a Senate vote on three nominees extremely hostile to civil rights -- Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor and Priscilla R. Owen. No commitment was made to two other pending nominees, William Myers and Henry Saad.
People for the American Way praised the compromise, saying it ''rejects the nuclear option, preserves the filubuster and ensres that both political parties will have a say in who is appointed to our highest courts.''
However, the group, like other progressive organizations that oppose the three nominees that will get a Senate vote, expressed disapointment with the caliber of nominees that will now be voted on.
People for the American Way noted, ''We are deeply concerned that it could lead to confirmation of appeals court judges who would undermine Americans' rights and freedom.''
Republicans were able to keep the nominations viable, even after they had died in the Judiciary Committee during the last session, by playing the race and gender card.
The conservative Independent Women’s Forum charges that “radical feminists” are seeking to “prevent qualified female nominees from taking their seats on the federal bench.”
Joseph Farah, a columnist and editor of the ultra-conservative WorldNetDaily, is perhaps the most vitriolic critic of Democrats on the filibuster issue. In one column, he wrote, “..many of the leading Democratic politicians in America are racist to the core.” At another point, he said, “In fact, it is obvious the Democrats become ruthlessly racist against those minority nominees who cross them politically.”
Writing in the Weekly Standard, Steven G. Calabresi said: “The eminently qualified conservatives Democrats have quashed include Miguel Estrada, who is Hispanic, Janice Rogers Brown, who is African American, Bill Pryor, a brilliant young Catholic, and two white women, Priscilla Owen and Carolyn Kuhl. By keeping these five nominees off the federal courts of appeals, Democrats seem to have blocked Bush from considering them for the Supreme Court.”
Calabresi is a law professor at Northwestern University and a Founder of the Federalist Society, a network of conservative lawyers, law professors and judges that seeks to move the courts to the right.
He continued, “When George W. Bush became president in 2001, the legal left and the Democratic party rallied around the slogan, ‘No more Clarence Thomases.’ By that they meant they would not allow any more conservative African Americans, Hispanics, women or Catholics to be groomed for nomination to the High Court with court of appeals appointments. The Democrats have done such a good job of this that, today, the only names being floated as serious Supreme Court nominees are those of white men.”
Joseph Farah, the conservative columnist, demonstrated how far some conservatives will go to depict Democrats as racists.
“When Senate Democrats successfully blocked three of President Bush’s federal appeals-court judgeships in a 40-hour debate initiated by Republicans, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., told reporters that he would continue to oppose any ‘Neanderthal that is nominated by the president for any federal court.’
“Now I don’t happen to believe Neanderthals ever existed. But, if they did, the implication is they were something less than human – beings lower on the evolutionary scale. Kennedy was referring to men and women like Miguel Estrada, a Hispanic, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen, a woman, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Carolyn Kuhl, a woman, and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman.”
Farah then unloaded both barrels: “Kennedy had demonstrated his utter contempt for women in the past – for instance, by leaving a drowning woman and the scene of an accident.
But it seems to me Kennedy was speaking in racist code language here.
Could “Neanderthal” be the new ‘N’ word he and his colleagues use to discuss minorities who are disloyal to their Democratic Party patrons and others who leave the ‘progressive plantation?’”
Amid the efforts to portray Kennedy as a racist, it should be noted that he has consistently scored As on the NAACP’s Civil Rights Report Card. By contrast, the latest NAACP research shows that every Republican in the Senate and House except one earned an F when voting on issues deemed most important to African-Americans. Rep. Jim Leach, a Republican from Iowa, earned a C.
By contrast, the lowest grades earned by Democrats were an F for former Rep. Christopher John of Louisiana and Ds for Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi. All other Democrats scored a C or above.
A report by People for American Way observed, “For months, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been threatening to deploy the ‘nuclear option,’ a parliamentary maneuver designed to unilaterally break the rules and prevent senators from using filibusters against extremist judicial nominees. But with polls showing that Americans are opposed to such a move by as much as a 2 to 1 margin, the Republicans and their right wing allies are making false claims of racial and gender discrimination to divert attention from their radical agenda.”
The 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus weighed in, writing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on May 19.
“The Senate insisted that the minority rights of Senators were absolute when the filibuster was used for a hundred years almost exclusively to defeat the human rights of African Americans,” CBC members wrote. “During all those years, Rule XXII was so impenetrable that despite the documented lynchings of 6,000 African Americans and the open and notorious denial of the right of African Americans to vote, the proponents of their rights finally ceased trying to enact even the most essential bills – anti-lynching legislation after three attempts in the 1920s and 1930s and anti-poll tax legislation after three attempts in the 1940s.”
The lawmakers recounted, “All major legislation that today bar racial discrimination in voting, employment and housing was passed after filibusters, requiring cloture to obtain the necessary votes.”
They also said, “…Minority rights in the Senate are no less important today than they were when the Senate insisted on the rights of the minority that delayed each and every attempt to enforce the 14th and 15th Amendments for a century. The filibuster was systematically used when Senate minority rights meant the denial of the rights of African Americans. We cannot and will not stand down when Senate minority rights are proposed to be over-ruled against a Senate minority that seeks to protect the rights of African Americans.”
Clearly, the debate over cloture in the Senate is, in the end, about politics.
As Professor Calabresi wrote in the Weekly Standard, “If Brown or Owen were nominated to the Supreme Court, the record suggests she would win the ensuing national contest for hearts and minds. Best of all for conservatives, Senate Democrats would be forced by their left-wing interest groups to go down fighting these popular minority and female nominees. At a bare minimum, Republican Senate candidates would acquire a great issue for 2006.”