Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich

WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOMENSENEWS)–U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, who is planning on retiring at the end of this year, has decided to make his racist, sexist, right-wing philosophy live on by using political IOUs to see to it that arch-conservative judges are nominated to the bench.

No sooner was Mississippi’s anti-civil rights nominee Charles Pickering rejected earlier this year for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals than we have to contend with another draconian, anti-civil rights nominee: Dennis Shedd, nominated to the nearby 4th Circuit.

Shedd was named in 1990 to South Carolina’s Federal District Court by Bush the Elder–at which time his only qualification for the bench was that he served as an aide to Thurmond. Since then, Shedd has amassed a record of hostility to gender-discrimination claims. He has used his authority to dismiss every sexual harassment claim the defendants asked him to, with only one exception. He denies female plaintiffs jury trials even when the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission finds reasonable cause that discrimination occurred and even when federal magistrates recommend that the cases should go to trial.

In one case, he ruled that a supervisor’s repeated requests for sex, lewd language, physical touching and visits to a female employee’s home, while “certainly disgusting and degrading,” did not rise to the level of outrageous conduct.

Shedd Mocked Objections to Confederate Flag

He is equally hostile to civil rights claims, even while presiding in a state with an African American population of more than 30 percent. He has raised the bar so high for proving racial discrimination that few cases can surmount it.

Shedd stated that it was an “extremely close question” whether a jury should even hear an African American woman’s claim that she was fired by a manager who said he didn’t want a “n—–” as his secretary. This is also a judge who compares the indignities suffered by African Americans by the flying of the Confederate flag on the State House lawn with persons potentially “injured” by the inclusion of a palm tree on the South Carolina flag. To appoint a judge with such a shameful record on civil rights law in a circuit with the highest percentage of African American citizens living within its jurisdiction–25 percent of the residents of North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia are black–is insulting enough.

Now add the fact that a very large number of civil rights challenges travel through these courts on their way to the Supreme Court–in part because 35 percent of African Americans living in the Deep South live in the 4th Circuit and in part because these African Americans have a three-century-long history of experience with racial discrimination–and one realizes that his nomination is a deliberate attempt to rewrite laws addressing civil and gender rights.

The 4th Circuit has a long history of conservative, anti-woman decisions. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed last year the 4th Circuit’s decision to permit drug testing on pregnant African American women without their consent. Moreover, the Supreme Court also rebuffed this circuit’s efforts to overturn the long-standing Miranda decision, which requires police to inform the apprehended of their right to remain silent.

Circuit Was All White until Clinton Recess Appointment

This is also the same court that, until two years ago, had never had a non-white judge. Despite repeated attempts by President Clinton to integrate the 4th Circuit over seven years and with four distinguished African American nominees, the circuit remained all-white until Virginian Roger Gregory’s recess appointment in the last days of the Clinton presidency that circumvented the lack of Senate approval.

The Republican-led Senate had refused even to consider the four earlier African American nominees of moderate judicial philosophy, much less vote on their nominations. In fact, in spite of four vacancies on a 15-member court, then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and the Chief Judge of the 4th Circuit, J. Harvie Wilkinson III, declared as late as 2001 that the 4th Circuit simply did not need any more judges. North Carolina’s Sen. Jesse Helms went so far as to introduce legislation in 1999 to eliminate two of the vacant judgeships, presumably to avoid filling them with African Americans.

Now the arch-conservatives want to fill a seat they denied to African Americans with a white nominee who is a protege of Thurmond. In the seat, Shedd’s revisionist judicial activism will have ample opportunity to reverse the measured and settled constitutional protections for blacks and other racial minorities living in the Deep South and perhaps beyond. Adding insult to injury is that this nominee will assuredly move a court, whose decisions traditionally have reflected hostility to civil rights enforcement, even further to the radical right.

African Americans and women have been injured by the 4th Circuit’s jurisprudence far too long. It is time to neutralize the destructive effects of this important court on women as well as blacks. It is time for the entire Senate to demand that only moderates need apply.

Yvonne Scruggs-Leftwich, Ph.D., a political scientist and urban planner, is executive director of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc., a 25-year-old national civil rights and service confederation headquartered in Washington.

Other Women’s eNews commentaries by Scruggs-Leftwich:

Jan 30, 2002 King’s Dream of Economic Parity Eludes Black Women
Sep 19, 2001 Confronting Racism Would Enhance U.S. Security
Jul 04, 2001 Toward an Independence Day for All to Celebrate
Feb 28, 2001 Black Women Are Touching the Sky
Jan 15, 2001 Dr. Martin Luther King: ‘Give Us the Ballot’
Nov 15, 2000 Significance of Black Women’s Vote Ignored
Sep 27, 2000 Black, Latina Women Locked in Jailhouse, Poorhouse
Aug 24, 2000 Candidates: Don’t Underestimate Black Women