The Senate and the real John Roberts
Published Sep 17, 2005 10:50 AM

There’s a saying that if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it probably IS a duck.

John Roberts, George Bush’s nominee for Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has argued right-wing causes on just about every significant social and econo mic issue in this country over the last two decades. He has written right-wing, reactionary legal position papers and argued right-wing, reactionary legal cases for right-wing, reactionary administrations. He has made right-wing, reactionary decisions as a federal judge. A quick check of the websites of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement and the labor movement will show his uninterrupted record of reaction.

The chances are—he is a right-wing reactionary!

This is the real issue that is being finessed and watered down in the charade called Senate confirmation hearings in Washington.

His record begins in 1980, when he was a law clerk for his racist mentor, Justice William Rehnquist, and opposed affirmative action. It goes all the way up until July 2005, when he ruled in favor of Donald Rumsfeld that the Geneva Conventions were null and void for prisoners at Guantánamo and upheld military tribunals there.

In between he argued in favor of weakening desegregation laws and the Voting Rights Act, opposed affirmative action, and argued to increase police powers and reduce prisoners’ rights.

He opposed Roe vs. Wade and abortion-related counseling. He defended Operation Rescue’s right to terrorize women’s health care clinics.

He argued for religion in public schools, opposed environmentalist opposition to handing over thousands of acres of public land to mining companies, and voted to curtail the Endangered Species Act.

Roberts argued to protect corporations from expanding workers’ benefits and defended the right of the National Mining Association to blow the tops off mountains in West Virginia. He defended Fox Television and Rupert Murdoch against charges of monopoly.

He defended anti-union criminal contempt fines against striking miners. He argued that workers with carpal tunnel syndrome were not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

With such a horrendous record, the hearings in the Senate should be quite simple. If this were not a club of millionaires, the exposures and questions would be straight forward. Roberts would be charged as anti-woman, racist, anti-labor, anti-environment and a tool of big business.

But instead the hearings are loaded with legal terminology, citations of court cases and loads of Latin legal ese. It takes a great deal of legal and political background to comprehend what is really going on in the Senate. Mostly it is a carefully staged debate, after which everyone in both parties expects that Roberts will be confirmed.

The hearings are being conducted by millionaires on the Senate Judiciary Committee, most of whom are lawyers and are about as far away from the workers and the oppressed as the moon. They allow Roberts to not answer questions. They let him plead in case after case involving his reactionary writings, arguments or rulings that he was just working for an administration or a client. This is equivalent to the argument that every low-level indicted war criminal makes: “I was just following orders.”

Roberts enthusiastically carried out those orders and perfected the reactionary missions assigned him by Reagan, Bush I, Bush II and his corporate clients. He is fully responsible for the suffering and denial of rights caused by his participation in reactionary decisions.

Most of the politicians in both parties are happy because Roberts gave them an out. Knowing that Roe vs. Wade would be an important part of the battle to come, he immediately declared himself in favor of the right to privacy. If he was signaling to the ruling class that he would not overturn Roe vs. Wade, he made himself a more acceptable tool of reaction. To directly overrule the legal right to abortion might cause a social explosion. To implement his anti-abortion views all he has to do is to continue to erode the right with rulings on parental consent, restriction of government funding, etc., and uphold numerous state statutes that chip away at reproductive rights for women.

But regardless of Roberts’s right-wing intentions, the Supreme Court is not likely to determine the fate of society in the coming period. The exposure of the naked racism and disregard of the masses of people affected by the Gulf hurricane—combined with the growth in poverty, the decline in income, the gathering momentum of a monumental health care crisis, increasing opposition to the costly occupation in Iraq, and the general decline of the conditions of the workers and oppressed—all point in the direction of a coming up surge of struggle. This struggle is what will determine the future, not reactionary Supreme Court judges.

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