However weakened by its botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the White House can still drive a woman-unfriendly agenda, Gloria Feldt says, through a Roberts’ high court. That’s why voting and speaking up matters so much.

Gloria Feldt

(WOMENSENEWS)–Let me resist the impulse to start lambasting the Senate Democrats for once again dividing and conquering themselves, starting with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid opposing and the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy, supporting John Roberts’ confirmation as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Let me resist the impulse to start lambasting the progressive groups for being complicit in this dividing and conquering and in compromising their own missions by choosing not to mount a unified, swift and smart offense against a man they knew full well to be a charming face in a neatly pressed but deeply ominous judicial suit.

Let me resist the impulse to rant about how the so-called moderate Republicans have all announced, with little fanfare and seemingly no retribution, that they will (surprise!) be voting to confirm Roberts, even after many progressive groups supported them in their last elections because they said they would vote against any Supreme Court nominee who was likely to strip women of their reproductive rights.

Let me stay on the issue at hand: the specter of a Roberts court.

It will change the country in numerous and profound ways.

Smiling Brightly and Steering the Court

Roberts has proven he can find dozens of ways to evade and avoid answering substantive questions. As such, he is certainly up to the task of smiling brightly through Washington dinner parties while steering the high court in directions that are likely to turn the country into one more like those my grandparents came here from pre-revolutionary Eastern Europe to escape.

Roberts can be expected to throw a chill over religious liberties and the separation of religion and government. He has argued in favor of overturning the judicial test that has traditionally been used to analyze these cases. The consequences of that could extend beyond stripping religious minorities of protections from the tyranny of the majority. They could extend to upholding federal funding for the religious activities of anti-choice and abstinence-only groups. They could influence reproductive rights and health-care access issues soon to come before the court.

Roberts puts advances in gender discrimination and other civil rights protections–such as equal pay, contraceptive equity and women’s athletic liberation under Title IX–in doubt. He makes hard-fought laws that reflect true family values–such as family and medical leave–seem tenuous.

He imperils Roe v. Wade and with it the amazing notion that the Constitution safeguards women’s right to make their own childbearing decisions without government interference.

Cautionary Civics Lesson

The idea of a Roberts Court–likely to be tilted yet further to the right by whomever President Bush nominates to succeed Justice Sandra Day O’Connor–must serve as a cautionary civics lesson.

It matters who wins elections. It matters who controls the power to appoint judges. It matters who advises and consents to appointments. These are simply facts of political life.

The strong and spirited protests women’s and civil rights organizations have mounted during the Roberts hearings deserve much praise, but their influence has been weakened because they have not yet translated into voting power what polls repeatedly show is the support of the majority of Americans. Nor have they exacted retribution when policy makers violate their principles.

That’s why even in the face of the Bush administration’s botched response to Hurricane Katrina–which exposed its pillaging of the federal budget in the service of a misbegotten war and tax cuts for the wealthiest among us–the White House continues to set the agenda. It exercises its power without apology and it plays to win.

Americans most threatened by all that a Roberts court portends–women of all political leanings, for example, and people whose paychecks depend on a vibrant economy–need to pay attention to these lessons and take charge of the nation’s agenda.

Let’s face it; in Washington, Lyndon Johnson’s rule of engagement still applies even if it’s applied more covertly and to a gender-inclusive Congress today: "When you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."

A Destructive Road

The esteemed members of the Senate who are advising and consenting to the president’s nominations are going down a road that will be destructive to fundamental American principles of liberty and justice.

They need the voters to tell them in clear and unwavering voices what laws serve them best. They need fearless application of power by dedicated leaders who will not let go when they encounter controversy. Most of all, they need a visionary agenda of policy initiatives that people are passionate about in order to rally citizens to stay involved in the messy and often frustrating process of democracy.

We the people have to deliver the votes in the 2006 and 2008 elections that will halt the shift of our highest court into dangerous territory.

Beyond the current two court vacancies, other vacancies also loom. It is imperative that everyone with a stake in the Constitution–and that would be everyone–be diligent in their practice of Democracy 101. This involves voting, yes, and getting involved in campaigns, but also being vocally involved every day.

It may well be a foregone conclusion that John Roberts will be confirmed this week. That’s all the more reason not to hold back from stating why he should not be confirmed and thus to set the stage for the next and likely more bruising battles for the soul of the U.S. judiciary.

Gloria Feldt is the author of "The War on Choice: the Right-Wing Attack on Women’s Rights and How to Fight Back" (Bantam, 2004).



For more information:

Women Float Names for O’Connor Seat on High Court:

Women of Color Alarmed by Chief Justice Nominee:

Legal Times–"The Flower of the Reagan Revolution," by T. R. Goldman: