September 10, 2005
Showdown over the Supreme Court
Feminist anti-capitalist revolt—not Democrats—will secure liberty and justice for all
The death of ultra-conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist and retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor leaves two empty seats on the highest court in the land – and a critical opportunity for working people to demand the kind of judges who will advance our rights, not those of corporate entities and theocratic zealots. President Bush has shown whose interests he supports by nominating far-rightwing judge John Roberts to replace Chief Justice Rehnquist. This maneuver sets up O'Connor's position to be filled by someone who will likely continue her “moderate” record – of limiting access to abortion, opposing equal protection for gays, and favoring religious school vouchers, mandatory sentencing and the death penalty.
As the makeup and function of the Supreme Court comes under renewed scrutiny, pundits, internet bloggers and worried pro-choice reformers are debating what role Roberts will play if confirmed. The answer is clear: behind his easy-going style lies an extremist, fundamentalist ideologue whose resume is permeated with legal decisions that rival those of fellow woman-hating, anti-civil rights justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Hard-won reforms are under attack and risk further decimation if neo-Puritan Roberts is confirmed. That's why he must be stopped.
But concerned feminists and other movement activists can't depend on the hopelessly discredited Democratic Party to save us. We must get busy organizing in the streets to stop the Roberts appointment, and to ultimately free the entire U.S. from a system that reaps huge profits from the second-class status of women, people of color, and workers.
Roberts' record: A far-right smorgasbord
John Roberts' legal track record is chilling. His career began in the Reagan era by opposing school desegregation, Voting Rights Act protections and affirmative action. Under Papa Bush, Roberts argued for more religion in public schools and against Title IX laws banning sex discrimination in educational facilities. He opposed environmental controls, favored denying school access to children of undocumented immigrants, and fought enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act for injured workers.
More recently, Roberts backed George W's positions that accused “enemy combatants” are not covered by the Geneva Convention, condoning torture and secret trials, and urged a more active judicial role in shielding businesses from union and consumer protections.
Perhaps most telling is Roberts' history concerning reproductive rights. His nomination was trumpeted by the violent anti-abortion rights group Operation Rescue, an organization he defended in court. He backs the “gag rule” that bans federally-funded family planning programs from discussing abortion with their clients. And in a 1991 brief, Roberts wrote that Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided and should be overruled.”
Losing strategies of establishment feminists
Given these rollbacks, it's obvious that Roberts is unfit to serve on the Supreme Court and should be adamantly opposed. But liberal feminist groups like Planned Parenthood, NOW and NARAL are waging an ineffective and downright dangerous campaign by refusing to build a movement that can stop his confirmation or the rising rightwing fundamentalist tide. Instead, they employ single-issue scare tactics to fill their coffers, then turn to lobbying the corporate-financed Democrats to stop the onslaught on reproductive rights and civil liberties. This despite the fact that the Democrats have approved more than two hundred of Bush's nominees in the past four years. Even pro-choice luminaries Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean are going out of their way to distance themselves from a woman's fundamental right to control her body by promoting the need to “reach out” to anti-abortion conservatives.
In addition to shilling for the Democrats, lady bureaucrats in the mainstream women's groups – and their opportunistic cheerleaders on the left – are trying to demobilize the grassroots movement that is springing up in response to the times. The message to the one million activists who gathered in the nation's capital in April 2004 for the March for Women's Lives was: vote for anti-abortion rights, pro-war candidate Kerry. Planned Parenthood recently denounced clinic defenders when they mobilized to counter the “Crusade for Life,” a group targeting California clinics to harass women and stage “fetus die-ins” – ignoring the fact that it was unabashedly visible protests that won abortion rights in the first place.
The role of the courts: three branches, one tree
In a just world, laws and judicial interpretations would unconditionally protect human life and liberty above private property, and recognize all genders, ages and races as equal. But under capitalism, the reverse is true. Far from being a “neutral arbiter” of justice and one-third of a fair system of checks and balances, the Supreme Court upholds and promotes discrimination just as Congress and the White House do, because these government bodies reflect the priorities of the class in power. A federal government that puts judges into office who advocate discrimination against women, people of color, and queers, wages war for oil, and abandons poor people devastated by Hurricane Katrina instead of preventing such needless suffering can only be explained by exposing its profits-over-people aims.
A grassroots blueprint for success
So what's a frustrated rebel grrl and her allies to do? The good news is that the courts can be influenced by the public mood and workers' demands. With enough public pressure, even conservative judges can make surprisingly liberal decisions – as evidenced by civil rights legislation and Roe.
Building a united-front activist movement to demand that judges uphold and expand legal rights for all is a good place to start. This will send a clear message to Senators that nominees who don't meet these criteria must be opposed by any means, including filibustering.
An inclusive movement should include and represent the issues all of those groups targeted by the rightwing and religious fundamentalists – women, people of color, queers, youth, disabled, elderly, immigrants, unemployed, underemployed, unionists, and students. We are the majority – by taking our demands into the streets, via sit-ins, strikes and protests, we can slow down and stop the attacks on our rights.
But ultimately, what's needed is yanking the profit-driven system up by its roots. Replacing it with a socialist society based on sharing wealth would eliminate the need for bigoted laws and imperialist wars and provide access to education, childcare, medical care, pensions, and employment for all. Since U.S. capitalism has failed miserably to meet these basic needs, it is our constitutional right to advocate a revolutionary change.