The Wrong Nominees at the Wrong Time

By: Marc H. Morial
President and CEO
National Urban League

The compromise forged by a small band of Republican and Democratic Senators has preserved the Senate’s tradition of the filibuster.
But the battle in Congress’ upper chamber over judicial nominations continues—now against a troubling backdrop: the burning last week of three crosses in one night in Durham, North Carolina.

This act, whose perpetrators have yet to be caught, offers a vivid reminder that racial hatred and intolerance still live in America; and it helps underscore the importance of our fight for judges who won’t turn their backs on those who most need the courts to protect them against injustice.

Because federal judges serve for life, it’s vital that the Senate scrutinize each judicial nominee to ensure they’re fair-minded and committed to upholding civil rights protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Sadly, however, that is not happening today. Judicial nominees, regardless of their record on the bench, are being rubber-stamped by the Senate majority. This has resulted in an alarming rightward shift of the federal courts, which are increasingly filled with anti-civil rights judges.

That’s why the National Urban League has helped lead the fight to preserve the Senate filibuster, which gives the minority party in the Senate leverage against the tyranny of a power-hungry majority.
Although the filibuster has not always been used for good—segregationists’ once used it to thwart civil rights legislation, for example—it is nonetheless a valuable tool in our democracy.

Thus, we were encouraged by last week’s compromise. But we remain firmly opposed to several judges being proposed for elevation to appellate courts. They include William Pryor, Terrence Boyle and Janice Rogers Brown.

William Pryor, an ultra-conservative activist and an architect of the modern States’ rights movement, will likely be voted on next week. Pryor has spent his career fighting to limit Congress’ power to enforce civil rights laws, has defended criminal ordinances that disproportionately target minority youth, and has called for the repeal of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. No one with such record deserves to be on the federal bench.

Terrence Boyle, whose nomination is pending in the Judiciary Committee, is an equally poor choice. As a federal district court judge in North Carolina, he’s displayed an astonishing disregard for civil rights and the proper exercise of judicial authority. His rulings have been so extreme that the overwhelmingly conservative Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed him more than 150 times.

Boyle’s errors in one voting rights case—in which a group of white North Carolina voters challenged the drawing of boundaries for a Congressional district represented by Mel Watt, an African American—were so egregious that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed him twice in that same case.

Boyle’s nomination was possible only because his mentor, Jesse Helms, blocked three of President Clinton’s nominees for that circuit. Boyle’s staunchly anti-civil rights record, his incompetence on the bench, and the ugly racial politics that made his nomination possible cry out for the defeat of the drive to elevate him to the Court of Appeals.

Janice Rogers Brown, whose nomination will likely to be voted on next week, has received the most attention of the three, unquestionably because her supporters have made much of the fact that she is African-American and overcame substantial obstacles in her drive for success.
But, while Brown’s personal history is compelling—as are those of countless other African Americans of her age—it is her record on the job that tells the story.

She has consistently shown a deep hostility toward civil rights, affirmative action, and government authority to remedy discrimination. In articles and speeches, she has equated government programs with slavery, attacked the New Deal, and accused Social Security recipients of “cannibalizing their grandchildren.”

More disturbingly, she regularly allows these views to infect her judicial opinions as a California Supreme Court justice.

For example, Brown actually argued in a dissent that the First Amendment protects the use of racial slurs in the workplace, even when it constitutes illegal racial discrimination. She even suggested in her opinion that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination, violates the First Amendment and is therefore unconstitutional.

No reasonable person can have any confidence that Janice Rogers Brown, or Terrence Boyle, or William Pryor will respect and uphold civil right laws that protect Americans from acts of discrimination, disenfranchisement, and racial intolerance. Thus, each Senator must do his or her proper duty and declare, as their records indicate, they are the wrong nominees at the wrong time—and vote against confirmation. The integrity of our nation’s laws comes first.

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