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John Roberts: Uncompassionate Conservative

John Roberts: Uncompassionate Conservative

By Marjorie Cohn
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Tuesday 06 September 2005

George W. Bush has nominated John Roberts to be Chief Justice of the United States. Bush lauded Roberts for his "goodwill and decency toward others." Yet Roberts' record reveals a callous disregard for the rights of people very much like the tens of thousands who have died and been rendered homeless by Katrina.

The outpouring of compassion by people all over this country - and indeed, the world - in the wake of Hurricane Katrina stands in stark contrast to Bush's actions both before and after the tragedy. In spite of warnings about the weak levees in New Orleans, Bush cut the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for levee construction by 44 percent. By sending the National Guard to fight in his trumped-up war on Iraq, Bush deprived the people of New Orleans of critical assistance immediately after the hurricane struck. The day after what may be the worst disaster ever to hit the United States, Bush refused to interrupt his golf game to exercise badly needed leadership.

Most of the tragic images flashing across our television screens are of African Americans. They are suffering indescribable hardship as a result of an administration that failed to protect them from the predicted hurricane, and then failed to timely render aid that would have saved thousands of lives.

John Roberts' career has established his credentials as an uncompassionate conservative. He has worked consistently to deny access to the courts to individuals who have suffered harm like those in New Orleans. He has long been an enemy of civil rights - for the poor, for minorities, for women, for the disabled, for workers, and for a clean and safe environment.

Roberts tried to cut back the federal law that allows people to sue the government when they have been deprived of their federal rights. When he worked at the Solicitor General's office in the George Bush I administration, Roberts wrote an amicus brief in which he argued that the state of Virginia should not reimburse hospitals for Medicaid claims at reasonable rates. Roberts said the Medicaid Act did not create any enforceable rights. Roberts would likely deny relief to people in New Orleans who seek to recover medical costs from a government that failed to protect them.

Roberts viewed legislation to fortify the Fair Housing Act as "government intrusion."

Roberts condemned a Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law that allowed schools to deny admission to the children of undocumented workers.

Roberts fought for a narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that would have made it much harder for minorities to get elected to public office. He mischaracterized the Act as requiring "a quota system for electoral politics." Robert's characterization of the Voting Rights Act borders on racism.

Roberts contended that Congress could pass a law to prevent all federal courts from ordering busing to achieve school desegregation, a position much more extreme than that adopted by the Reagan administration. Roberts would likely have agreed with his boss William Rehnquist, who argued to his boss Justice Robert Jackson that the racist Plessy v. Ferguson's separate but equal doctrine should be maintained.

Roberts took the position that affirmative action programs are bound to fail because they require recruiting "inadequately prepared candidates," another unfounded and racist stance.

Roberts has referred to the "so-called 'right to privacy'" in the Constitution; he argued that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled. Roberts' position would consign poor women who could not afford to travel to a state that does allow abortion to coat hangers in back alleys. Roberts would likely vote to uphold state laws that made the sale of contraceptives illegal, which the Court struck down in Griswold v. Connecticut.

Roberts worked to keep women who have suffered gender discrimination out of court. He argued for a narrow interpretation of Title IX that would effectively eviscerate its protections altogether. Roberts wrote an amicus brief in which he argued that a student who was sexually molested by her high school teacher was not entitled to compensatory damages under Title IX. Fortunately, the Supreme Court held otherwise, saying that the girl would have "no remedy at all" if it had adopted Roberts' position.

Roberts ridiculed the gender pay equity theory of equal pay for comparable work as a "radical redistributive concept." He mocked female Republican members of Congress who supported comparable worth, writing, "Their slogan might as well be 'from each according to his ability, to each according to her gender.'"

Roberts supported a dramatic weakening of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. He maintained that a deaf student who got by in school by lip-reading and using a hearing aid was not entitled under the Act to receive the services of a sign-language interpreter in the classroom.

Roberts defended Toyota for firing a woman with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Roberts argued on behalf of the National Mining Association that West Virginia citizens could not prevent mining companies from extracting coal by blasting the tops off of mountains and depositing the debris in nearby valleys and streams.

Throughout his career, John Roberts has acted without "goodwill and decency toward others." His positions have demonstrated a mean spirit that flies in the face of what we like to think America stands for. The 50-year-old Roberts would have the opportunity to shape the nation's highest court for the next two or three decades. A Roberts Court would threaten the rights of all but the rich and powerful. It is time for the Democrats to utter the "f" word: Filibuster.


Marjorie Cohn, a contributing editor to t r u t h o u t, is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, executive vice president of the National Lawyers Guild, and the US representative to the executive committee of the American Association of Jurists.

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