Saving the Courts Crucial to Women's Rights

By Berg, Linda | National NOW Times, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

Saving the Courts Crucial to Women's Rights


Berg, Linda, National NOW Times


George W. Bush is using his presidential power to imprint a reactionary political agenda on the U.S. judicial system. The 2002 elections further emboldened the administration to accelerate packing the courts with conservative ideologues. Having already proclaimed that his model jurists are right-wing Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, Bush is following the plan that his father and Ronald Reagan began in the 1980s-filling the courts of appeal with Scalia/Thomas clones so they'll be ready to appoint to a Supreme Court vacancy.

Working in lock-step with the Republican-controlled Senate, Bush intends to ram through a parade of jurists who are hostile to women's rights and civil rights. He is setting the stage for the systematic dismantling of our rights. Here's why the composition of the courts is so important:

The 13 federal appellate courts hear and decide almost 30,000 cases a year. They are the courts of last resort for most cases and their decisions are equally as binding in their circuits as the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court only weighs in on a small fraction of those cases (fewer than 100), primarily when two circuits interpret the law differently.

At the current rate, by 2004, all 13 federal circuit courts of appeal could be controlled by Republican-appointed judges. With no ideological balance among the circuits, and consequently no conflict among them, few cases will make it to the Supreme Court and the circuit court judgements will be the law of the land. And the cases that do make it through will face a majority right-wing court, if Bush has anything to say about it.

As we enter the longest period between Supreme Court vacancies in 178 years, our political enemies have groomed a stable of right-wing judicial ideologues to follow in the footsteps of Scalia and Thomas. In response, the National Organization for Women is launching a two-pronged strategy to protect reproductive rights and civil rights by saving the federal courts.

First, we will meet any attempt by Bush to add one more Supreme Court justice hostile to women's reproductive and civil rights with a wall of NOW-led grassroots opposition. Second, since the Supreme Court becomes irrelevant if the circuit courts fall into conservative alignment, we are pressing the Senate for a full examination of all judges nominated to those high courts and urging opposition to each and every nominee who proves to be an enemy of women's rights.

Alarmingly, all stars are aligned for our political opponents. They control the presidency and both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court is ideologically split 4-4-1 and a number of judges suffer from ill health or advanced age. Only one swing vote prevents full implementation of the right's ex-tremist agenda. The right to abortion-already hanging by a thread-is most obviously imperiled. Most Supreme Court scholars believe that this president will have the opportunity to appoint at least one, but more probably two, Supreme Court justices for lifetime appointments within the next two years. Generations of progress could be reversed at lightning speed.

Leading the parade of right-wing nominees is Miguel Estrada, nominated to the 2nd most influential court in the nation, the U. …

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Saving the Courts Crucial to Women's Rights
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