Politics & Policy

People Who State The Obvious

Left-wing group comes out against John Roberts.

One of the more peculiar rituals in Washington is the press conference to announce what everybody already knew. People for the American Way’s appearance Wednesday at the National Press Club was just such an occasion.

When PFAW President and CEO Ralph Neas announced that his organization was opposed to John Roberts’s nomination to the Supreme Court, there weren’t any gasps in the room.

“I stand here with sincere regret,” he solemnly intoned. PFAW had “hoped that President Bush would unite the country” with a justice that would maintain the balance on the Court set by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Alas, it was not to be. Bush had the audacity to nominate a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” No, scratch that, “an Antonin Scalia in sheep’s clothing.”

Oh sure, Roberts may look like an affable guy, Neas conceded, but beneath it all he is a dangerous man.

Consider, Neas said, Roberts is a man who: would restrict Title IX; has expressed a skepticism of the right to privacy and the separation of church and state; has taken the position that Congress has the right to strip the courts of the ability to rule on certain issues; supports a version of “federalism” (the scare quotes are Neas’s) that would limit the Constitution’s commerce clause; would limit the scope of the Endangered Species Act; and has even warned that affirmative-action programs could lead to the “recruiting of inadequately prepared candidates.”

“I didn’t think that anybody could be to the right of William Bradford Reynolds (Reagan nominee to be assistant attorney general), Robert Bork, and Ted Olson, but Roberts managed it,” Neas said.

So, any conservatives with lingering doubts about whether they should support Roberts might want to contact People for the American Way. Their 50-page dossier on Roberts will set them straight. They might want to wait for version 2.0 though.

“Believe it or not, it’s an interim report,” Neas said. “We’ve got another one coming.”

Yet considering how grave a threat to Constitution Roberts is, Neas was in an oddly warm’n’fuzzy mood Wednesday. Several times throughout the conference, he waxed nostalgic about his more than three decades fighting to keep extremists off the Supreme Court.

Oh sure, right now it looks like smooth sailing for John Roberts, but you kids weren’t there in 1987 for Robert Bork or in 1991 for Clarence Thomas, Neas said. They looked like they had it in the bag at about this time too. Just you watch.

He wouldn’t part with many details about the strategy to stop Roberts though. That, he said, was because there weren’t just reporters listening in at this press conference: The radical Right was too, and he didn’t want to tip them off. (So if it were just reporters in the room, he wouldn’t worry about that info getting out?)

Neas shrugged off the American Bar Association’s unanimous endorsement of Roberts as not particularly relevant. They were only evaluating his qualifications for the job. “ABA did not look at his philosophy,” Neas said.

On the subject of NARAL Pro-Choice America’s now-pulled ad that tried to link Roberts to abortion-clinic bombings, Neas didn’t have much to say.

“They (NARAL) had a bump in the road for a few days. They’re past that now,” he said. He did predict that several other liberal groups would come out in opposition to Roberts in the coming days. “It’s based on pretty good sources,” he said.

As it happens, Neas’s conference wasn’t the only game in town. “Women for Roberts” was holding a press conference on the same floor. Emceed by National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez, there the likes of Linda Chavez and Mary Ellen Bork had their say.

It presented a bit a problem for journalists on the Roberts beat, who obviously couldn’t be two places at once.

A coincidence, said a PFAW spokesman. The conference was originally meant to be half an hour earlier but got pushed back because of another speaker.

Who said D.C. summers were boring?

Sean Higgins is a reporter for Investor’s Business Daily.

Sean Higgins is a research fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, specializing in labor policy.

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