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The Hate America, Hate-Roberts Left By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, July 27, 2005

By most accounts, John Roberts, President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, is an able litigator with a vast body of accomplishment and well-wishers on both sides of the political divide. Scour the more dyspeptic precincts of the political left, however, and you find that altogether different image prevails. Far from popular litigator with the Harvard pedigree, Roberts is an extremist bent on doing the bidding of the so-called radical right.

Not a few left-wing special interests have seized on the emerging caricature of John Roberts as a radical. At the fore of the baying pack of Roberts’ foes is MoveOn.org, the political action committee, Democratic subsidiary and flagship of the Shadow Party,” the nationwide network of non-profit activist groups bankrolled by left-wing impresario George Soros. “In nominating John Roberts,” rants a recent MoveOn press release, “the president has chosen a right wing [sic.] corporate lawyer and ideologue for the nation's highest court instead of a judge who would protect the rights of the American people.” To move this anti-Roberts Gospel, the group’s website offers canned templates of letters opposing Roberts’ nomination. MoveOn’s 2 million-plus internet supporters simply fill them out and send them to the senator of their choice. “We can't afford to have a right-wing ideologue on our nation's highest court,” the letter declares.


Significantly, the MoveOn onslaught on Roberts’ is itself based on a pre-made template: Several weeks ago, the organization hosted a party for its supporters. Announced on the occasion was the group’s intention to pillory President Bush’s presumptive appointee as a “radical right judge.” For the campaign to succeed, however, the far-Left group had to don the guise of political moderation. “We don't want to come across as leftist, liberal activists,” stressed MoveOn activist Charles Fazio at the time.


It’s certainly a tall order. As the standard bearer for the radical wing of the Democratic Party, the group notoriously responded to the 9/11 terrorism attacks by demanding “restraint” from the U.S. government. Its paranoia-prone members, meanwhile, see nothing untoward about equating President Bush with Hitler. And it hasn’t lessened the group’s well-deserved reputation for wild-eyed radicalism that it reacted to the nomination of John Roberts by claiming a White House conspiracy: No sooner had the president announced his choice for the Supreme Court than the group dashed off a press release alleging, “President Bush has apparently speeded up the announcement of his Supreme Court nominee to deflect public attention from the Karl Rove scandal."


Close on the heels of MoveOn’s foot soldiers was Ralph Neas’s far-Left People for the American Way, which professed to be “extremely disappointed that the President did not choose a consensus nominee in the mold of Sandra Day O’Connor.” O’Connor herself did not share this concern, applauding Roberts as a “fabulous” appointment and urging the confirmation of this “brilliant legal mind.” In fact, Roberts’ mainstream credentials are not in dispute. Beyond winning bipartisan confirmation by the Judiciary Committee to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Roberts counts a number of Democrats in his corner, among them Seth Waxman, a former solicitor general under in the Clinton administration. From PAW’s perspective, Robert’s principal fault appears to be the fact that he has the backing of a Republican president and his supporters. For the eternally shrill Neas, this is incontrovertible evidence that Roberts is the cat’s paw of those “radical right leaders who have been demanding more far-right activists like Scalia and Thomas on the court.”


Then there is the PAW’s assertion that Roberts’ “record is a disturbing one.” Examined closely, the charge rests on little more than a handful of legal opinions authored by Roberts—on behalf of his clients—and creatively interpreted by the PAW. But it is part of the group’s patented strategy of tarring any judicial nominee not beholden to the PAW ideal of the Constitution as a blueprint for activist government as an intimate of the “Radical Right.” The strategy has its precedents in 1987, when the PAW spearheaded the smear campaign against Reagan appointee Judge Robert Bork, twisting and distorting his record until it approximated the group’s baseless assertion that Bork was a closet segregationist raring to turn back the clock on civil rights. PAW revisited the strategy in 2002 to sink the appointment of Charles Pickering, President Bush's choice for the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Neas and his underlings wasted no time casting the venerable judge, who, in the 1960s had testified against the Ku Klux Klan at considerable danger to himself, as a white-robed racist with a “well-documented record of hostility toward civil rights.”


The preliminary evidence suggests that Roberts is in for similarly unscrupulous treatment. While shying away, at least for now, from an outright condemnation, PAW has already set about assembling a tendentious indictment of Roberts on the basis of his legal briefs. PAW has not been above using a case about judicial authority to suggest that Roberts has scanted the rights of American troops—an ironic charge coming from the group that played an operative role in forming the United for Peace and Justice, the antiwar coalition that has focused its energies on undermining the troops’ efforts in Iraq. But if PAW’s record on judicial nominations teaches any lesson, it is that the group will not allow the absence of evidence impede its effort to libel Roberts as a right-wing extremist. As one of PAW’s typically overheated studies warns, “the already very conservative Supreme Court is just one or two new justices away from curtailing or abolishing fundamental rights that millions of Americans take for granted.”


Another left-wing group sharpening its knives in preparation for a rhetorical raid on Roberts is the Alliance for Justice, a coalition of feminist, environmentalist and other legal advocacy groups that has opposed the judicial appointment of every Republican president since the first term of Ronald Reagan. The group briefly altered course during the Clinton administration, when its founder, attorney-activist Nan Aron, declared that the president of the United States “has a duty to fill judicial vacancies and appoint jurists who share his views.”


The privilege is not extended to non-Democratic presidents: the Alliance boasts that it has recently championed ten Senate filibusters against President George W. Bush's judicial nominees on the basis of their allegedly “extreme” views. Aron, for her part, has already called Robert’s nomination “distressing.” In a conspicuous reversal of her earlier statement, Nan has also demanded that the Senate “conduct a very thorough and wide ranging inquiry into [Roberts’] judicial philosophy,” insisting, “There are too many questions about his views.” Fortunately for its political votaries, the Alliance has already answered them all. In a press release responding to Robert’s appointment, the group asserted that “it would be unsurprising if Judge Roberts embraces a judicial philosophy that is insensitive to the rights and protections that, over the past century, have brought us closer to realizing the twin ideals of freedom and equality,” an incendiary claim that the Alliance did not trouble to support with evidence.


Where a judicial appointment is involved, the powerhouse of the Legal Left, the ACLU, is never far behind. In what should be seen as a call to arms to its 400,000-strong membership base, the ACLU has “expressed deep concern” about Roberts’ views on civil liberties issues. It’s no coincidence that the ACLU has spearheaded the movement to roll back the Patriot Act and mounted campaigns against common sense counter-terrorism measures like the wartime profiling of terrorism suspects. At the same time, the ACLU has thrown its legal clout behind captured enemy combatants and rushed to the defense of terrorist operatives on American soil; among those who have benefited from the ACLU’s permissive views on terrorism are Sami al-Arian, the former Florida professor and head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Oregon software engineer Maher Mofeid Hawash, convicted for abetting Taliban and al-Qaeda die-hards in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding its disturbing record on terrorism, the ACLU warns that, with a vote of its board of directors, it will “oppose nominees to the Supreme Court that are fundamentally hostile to civil liberties.”


Even the semblance of open-mindedness is beyond the capacity of a roster of more marginal legal groups. Review the recent statements of the National Lawyers Guild, and you discover that Roberts’ “career has been devoted to the representation of major corporate interests in private practice and ultra conservative positions as a government attorney.” A better choice, according to the NLG, would represent the “legal interests of ordinary Americans.” One would be hard-pressed to find a group more ill-suited to discern those interests than the NLG. Founded in 1936 as a legal support for the Communist Party USA, the New York-based group has over the years lent its support to a multitude of radical causes. Most recently, the group garnered headlines for its shameless endorsement of North Korea’s Stalinist dictatorship—a delegation of NLG lawyers who traveled to North Korea in 2003 reported that the human rights abuses in the country were but the invention of Western propaganda—and for its vigorous opposition to the trial of Lynne Stewart, the radical attorney convicted in February for providing assistance to an Egyptian terrorist faction. Stewart gave the keynote address at their 2003 convention saluting "... modern heroes, dare I mention?  Ho and Mao and Lenin, Fidel and Nelson Mandela and John Brown, Che Guevara..."


Another far-Left legal group aghast at the choice of John Roberts is the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. Especially offensive to the CCR, which expressed “grave concern” over the nomination, was Roberts’ recent ruling that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay were not entitled to the Geneva Convention protections vouchsafed to uniformed prisoners of war, and his affirmation of the legality of military tribunals. “We are very troubled that someone who saw no ability of the court to compel compliance with the Geneva Conventions, a very basic right of International Law, has now been nominated to the Supreme Court,” said the CCR’s legal director, Bill Goodman. In truth, the campaign to extend the Geneva Conventions to terrorist captives is just one front in the CCR’s ongoing crusade to secure the blessings of liberty for terrorist operatives. For instance, the CCR’s lawyers have argued in court that the Patriot Act provision outlawing “material support” for terrorism is unconstitutional and “imposes guilt by association.” Applying its own principles, the CCR has rallied to the defense of Sami al-Arian, the above-mentioned former Florida professor currently on trial for raising funds for the Hamas sister group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad.


Environmentalist groups have also come out of the woodwork to cast aspersions at John Roberts. Among the most vocal has been Earthjustice, the California-based environmentalist group that dependably mounts legal campaigns against government agencies and corporations that run afoul of its uncompromising stance on issues like the use of public land. Of Judge Roberts, the group cautions that he “may fail to uphold our key environmental safeguards” as a Supreme Court Justice. Although supported by little evidence—the claim rests on a single opinion Roberts wrote in a case involving the Endangered Species Act—it has already found its way into newspapers like The Boston Globe. Less well publicized is the group’s “Judging the Environment” campaign, an ongoing effort to block Republican judicial appointees. The mission: denounce nominees with ties to the Republican Party as enemies of the environment. The campaign has already felled its share of victims, the most recent being William Myers, an attorney in the Department of Interior. Myers’s 2004 nomination to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals failed owing in no small part to the relentless efforts of Earthjustice, which, on irresponsibly thin evidence, decried Meyers as “the most anti-environmental nominee in history.”


And the list of Roberts’ political adversaries goes on. The hard-line abortion rights group NARAL—a formidable constituency within the Democratic Party—has denounced Roberts an “unsuitable” choice and a “divisive nominee with a record of seeking to impose a political agenda on the courts.” As a description of a Roberts, it has little currency even among liberals. For instance, Jeffrey Rosen, a liberal professor at George Washington University, recently took to the op-ed page of the New York Times to praise Roberts as the opposite of a political ideologue deserving of bipartisan enthusiasm. As a description of NARAL, however, it comes much closer to the mark. A member of the “Shadow Party,” NARAL has long promoted candidates who push the group’s absolutist stance on abortion, pressuring Democrats to toe the line or risk incurring NARAL’s wrath. Having played a significant role in the anti-Bork campaign, and more recently, nearly derailed the nomination of John Ashcroft to attorney general, NARAL is now aiming to tag Roberts as an enemy of “women’s rights.”


Branding Roberts as the enemy of “civil rights” is the task of groups like the National Urban League. Marc Morial, president of the NUL, has already voiced “concerns” about Roberts, warning that any future Supreme Court justice “have a strong, positive, and demonstrated commitment to civil rights.” But as an appraisal of the group’s positions reveals, what is meant by civil rights is unquestioning obeisance to its political agenda, in particular support for affirmative action. In the NUL’s manual, anything less than wholehearted commitment to racial preferences opens one up to charges of indifference to “the plight of black citizens,” a favorite NUL talking point, or worse, “racism.”


That the groups massing against Roberts are well outside the political mainstream says little about their possibility of success. Richly funded by left-wing moneymen and charities, they can also count on the support of their obstructionist amen corner in the Senate, most prominently left-wing hatchet men Ted Kennedy and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin. Kennedy, for one, has vowed to press Roberts on his judicial philosophy, a blatant reversal of the position he took during the 1981 hearing for Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor. “It is offensive to suggest that a potential Justice of the Supreme Court must pass some presumed test of judicial philosophy. It is even more offensive to suggest that a potential justice must pass the litmus test of any single-issue interest group,” proclaimed the Massachusetts senator at the time. Charles Schumer of New York, another would-be opponent, has already suggested that Roberts is insufficiently “mainstream.” That puts Schumer saliently at odds with the more moderate members of his own party, who last week announced that they saw nothing in Roberts record to justify obstructing his confirmation with a filibuster.


It also greatly complicates the radical Left’s embryonic smear campaign. With even some Democrats conceding that Roberts falls well within the political mainstream, left-wing agenda-setters and activists face an uphill battle in marring Roberts’ otherwise sparkling record with the stamp of extremism. Indeed, the Left’s groundless agitating may well burnish Roberts’ credentials as a consensus candidate. If one measure of a man is the forces arrayed against him, John Roberts is daily looking like a worthy choice for the nation’s highest court.

Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com

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