Monday, October 20, 2003
Congressional Black Caucus Slams Janice Rogers Brown Nomination
From Staff and Wire Service Reports
The Congressional Black Caucus came out Friday in strong opposition to the confirmation of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, calling her a conservative activist with a “disdain for legal precedent.”
The Black Caucus joined a growing list of labor, women’s rights, civil rights and environmental organizations that have criticized President Bush’s nomination of the controversial Sacramento jurist in advance of an expected Wednesday confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
California’s lone member of that committee, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has yet to say how she will vote on Brown’s nomination. Feinstein spokesman Howard Gantman said the senator typically refrains from expressing her views until after nominees have appeared before the panel.
Path to High Court
Brown, 54, was nominated in July by Bush, who is widely thought to have her in mind for a possible opening on the U.S. Supreme Court. The D.C. appeals court is often a stepping stone to the high court because it handles a large number of high-profile cases involving the federal government and constitutional challenges.
At a news conference Friday, Congressional Black Caucus chairman Elijah E. Cummings, D-Md., said that Brown’s nomination follows a pattern of Bush “to nominate individuals who are not qualified for these positions of trust and who are out of the mainstream of America.”
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the caucus called Brown a “notoriously conservative lawyer and jurist” who has shown herself to be unable to separate her own personal views from “her responsibility to render decisions based on a fair and precedent-based interpretation of the law and the Constitution.”
“Ms. Brown has argued that over the last 30 years, government has been ‘transformed from a necessary evil to a nanny,’ and she tells audiences that policy makers are ‘handing out new rights like lollipops in the dentist’s office,’” the caucus said.
Two Opinions Cited
It zeroed in on two of her opinions, including the California Supreme Court’s ruling three years ago effectively ending state affirmative action programs. The letter quotes California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George’s view that Brown’s opinion was “a serious distortion of history” that “does a grave disservice to the sincerely held views of a significant segment of our populace.”
In another case, the caucus said, Brown “argued that racially discriminatory speech in the workplace—even when it rises to the level of illegal race discrimination—is protected by the First Amendment.”
According to the caucus, Brown is the second sitting judge nominated by Bush to an appellate court who has received a partial “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary does not reveal a precise breakdown of its members’ votes. But it did disclose, pursuant to its guidelines, that Brown was rated “qualified” by less than two-thirds of the 15 members, meaning that at least six declared her “not qualified” and none said she was “well qualified.”
In a separate statement, Rep. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, said 26 national organizations are opposing Brown’s confirmation. Among these are the AFL-CIO, the National Organization for Woman, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Bar Association.
“This Bush nominee has such an atrocious civil rights record she makes Clarence Thomas look like Thurgood Marshall,” Watson said.
Judicial nominees typically refrain from any comment outside their confirmation hearing. A call to Brown’s office in San Francisco was not immediately returned.
Cornyn Gives Support
But Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general and member of the Texas Supreme Court who now sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement backing Brown’s confirmation.
“If critics don’t like Justice Brown’s decisions, they should change the law rather than attack her for partisan political gain,” he said. “California voters seem very satisfied with her. In fact, in 1998 Justice Brown was re-elected with 76 percent of the vote—the highest of all four justices on the ballot that year.”
Cornyn said Brown’s opinion on affirmative action was the result of voter approval of Proposition 209, which amended the state constitution and reflected the views of a unanimous Supreme Court.
Actually, Brown’s opinion in Hi-Voltage Wire Works, Inc. v. City of San Jose (2000) 24 Cal. 4th 537 was joined by Justices Ming Chin and Marvin Baxter and the late Justice Stanley Mosk. The language by George that was quoted in the CBC letter is from a concurring opinion joined by Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar, in which the chief justice also complained about Brown’s use of “highly charged slogans” in dealing with a measure “as sensitive and potentially divisive as Proposition 209.”
The remaining member of the court, Justice Joyce L. Kennard, criticized George and Brown, saying both opinions went well beyond the issues in the case, which dealt with a specific plan by the city to compel its contractors to reach out to minority and women subcontractors.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company