Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003
Blake Cornish, Deputy Legal Director for Nominations
Blake Cornish has been Deputy Legal Director for Nominations at NARAL Pro-Choice America since July of 2002, and prior to that was a staff attorney working on a range of state and federal legislative issues. He works on all federal judicial nominations, from district court to potential Supreme Court nominees, but has focused primarily on the courts of appeals, which are typically the courts of last resort for reviewing restrictions on the right to choose. He has been especially active in the efforts to defeat the nominations of Priscilla Owen, Carolyn Kuhl, and Bill Pryor. He is also the primary author of NARAL Pro-Choice Americas study that demonstrates how appellate judges nominated by anti-choice presidents are four times more likely than other judges to uphold restrictions on the right to choose.
Justine Andronici, Women Law & Public Policy Fellow
Justine Andronici is an attorney and activist and currently working at NARAL Pro-Choice America as a Women Law & Public Policy Fellow. While at NARAL Pro-Choice America, Justine has been active in efforts to defeat the nominations of Bill Pryor and Leon Holmes. Justine graduated cum laude and Order of the Coif from Penn Law in 2002. She has been working in womens rights advocacy for a decade, beginning as a student activist, and later working for five years for the Feminist Majority Foundation. While at FMF she worked on a womens right to choose as the Director of the Choices Campus Campaign and Research Analyst for FMFs National Clinic Access Project before returning to law school where she continued her womens rights activism.
Blake Cornish: Hello. Its been an exciting day at the Supreme Court, with Texas sodomy case coming out 6-3 in favor of striking down Texas same-sex sodomy law. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, and in substantial part relied on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision that narrowly preserved the central holding of Roe v. Wade. And of course Mr. Scalia took the opportunity in dissent to again suggest Roe should be overruled. All I can say at this point, is this really proves the fight over Robert Bork was worth it. Kennedy ended up with the seat for which Bork had been nominated. If Bork had been confirmed, we would have lost Roe in 1992.
But so far, no Justice has announced his or her retirement. But it could
still happen, so we still need to be ready.
posted:6/26/2003 1:21:00 PM CST
Sarah: How are Bushs nominees on reproductive rights? What are some
examples of things in their records?
Blake Cornish: Bush has been applying an anti-choice litmus test. 13 of his 43 nominees to the appellate courts have clear anti-choice records; none is on record in support of abortion rights. The examples are legion. Numerous nominees have called for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, have called for a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion, and more.
posted:6/26/2003 2:00:00 PM CST
Ariana: Is filibustering an effective strategy? What else can we do
to prevent court packing?
Blake Cornish: Right now, with Democrats in a bare minority, the filibuster is usually the only tool we can use to keep really bad judges off the courts. A few nominees are so bad, that a few Republicans might break ranks and vote no, but that has not happened yet. To stay informed, be sure to sign up for NARALs Choice Action Network, which gives regular action alerts about the bad nominees. Its at www.prochoiceamerica.org.
posted:6/26/2003 2:02:00 PM CST
Matthew: I know that the Roe v. Wade case of 1973 decided the issue
of abortion. However, could you tell me techinically what the decision
is based on? Also, if it is overturned, would the issue of legality go
to the states, or not?
Blake Cornish: Yes, if Roe is overturned, the issue would go to the states. We believe 12 states would be likely to outlaw most or all abortion, and 5 more might do the same. The basis of Roe is that the constitutional right to privacy is broad enough to encompass a womans private decision of whether to carry a pregnancy to term. The constitutional right to privacy is what is called an unenumerated right meaning it is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution. Privacy was first recognized as a fundamental right in the 1965 decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, which struck down a law that banned the sale of contraception.
posted:6/26/2003 2:04:00 PM CST
Aviva: Do you think that the filibusters on current nominees will continue
to hold? Do you see other filibusters looming in the future?
Blake Cornish: Filibusters will hold as long as Senators keep hearing from their constituents that Bushs judges are too extreme and cant be trusted to protect the constitutional right to choose. Other filibusters are possible -- there are some more extreme nominees in the pipeline, so we have to keep demanding that the Senate block their confirmation. The stakes are high.
posted:6/26/2003 2:08:00 PM CST
Carrie: If Roe is overturned, how feasible is a US version of the Women
on Waves program, where family planning services are provided on a boat
in international waters?
Blake Cornish: I hope we never have to go there. For example, California has codified protection for the right to choose, and along with other states probably wont outlaw abortion. But a number of southern states would probably outlaw abortion, and a woman living, say, in New Orleans might have to travel a great distance for an abortion.
posted:6/26/2003 2:10:00 PM CST
Jeremy: I understand that NARAL did a study which showed that Bush and
Reagan judges are 4x as anti-choice. What are some of the decisions that
they have made?
Blake Cornish: Theyve made a lot of bad decisions. Among the more extreme decisions was one that prevented abortion providers in Louisiana from even getting in the courthouse door to challenge an extreme medical malpractice law that was specifically designed to force up insurance rates and drive providers out of business. Texas and South Carolina have also been able to keep extreme and unnecessary regulations on their books with the same purpose -- what are called TRAP laws, Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. And dont get me started on parental involvement laws.
posted:6/26/2003 2:12:00 PM CST
Pauline: How are Bushs appointments any different than Clinton appointing
Blake Cornish: Actually, Clinton appointed pretty moderate judges for the most part, although they are consistently more supportive of the right to choose. But for example Ginsberg and Breyer on the Supreme Court are much more moderate than liberals of the past like Brennan and Marshall.
posted:6/26/2003 2:16:00 PM CST
Kate: Living in California, I feel very removed from the process of
the judicial appointments. as a young woman, how can I best support the
effort to oppose Bushs judicial appointments?
Justine Andronici: Hi Kate! I am so glad you asked that. In fact no matter where you are from this is an issue that is important for you to become involved in. The best thing to do is to keep informed by signing up for regular updates from organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America www.prochoiceamerica.org and FMF. Get involved online and in your community to spread the word about the threat to choice posed by Bushs extreme nominees.
posted:6/26/2003 2:18:00 PM CST
Jen: Who is the worst Bush appointee under consideration right now?
Blake Cornish: Oh, so many to choose from. Bill Pryor, currently the Attorney General of Alabama, does come to mind. He will probably get his vote in Committee on July 10, and he is so bad that perhaps Republican Arlen Specter will even vote against him. Other really bad ones are Carolyn Kuhl, who Specter voted out of committee, but withheld any commitment to vote for her on the Senate floor, and Leon Holmes, who Specter could only vote on in committee if he was sent to the floor without recommendation. All three are anti-choice activists.
posted:6/26/2003 2:19:00 PM CST
Given your experience as a student activist and your FMF experience prior
to law school, what suggestions or ideas do you have on how young people
and students can get involved in fight to keep these right-wing crazies
out of the courts?
Justine Andronici: I can not stress enough how important it is for everyone to become educated and mobilized on these issues. Many organizations are providing up to the minute information online about what is going on with Bushs nominees. NARAL Pro-Choice America provides regular email udates through our Choice Action Network and is enganged in a massive effort to mobilize nationwide to protect the right to choose for future generations. First, I suggest you link up online (which you already have), then look for opportunities to get involved in your community or on your campus with pro-choice organizing and education efforts. Speak out about Bushs extreme anti-choice nominees. Organizations like NARAL Pro0-Choice America can give you information about when to contact your Senator about key votes on anti-choice nominees.
posted:6/26/2003 2:21:00 PM CST
Sam: Do you think the Republicans in the Senate will succeed in getting
rid of the filibuster for nominees? What do you think Democrats will
do in retaliation? What are the ramifications of no filibuster as an
option to block nominees?
Blake Cornish: This is a really tough question. As you might know, getting rid of the filibuster according to the rules would require a vote of at least 67 of the 100 Senators. But its possible the Republicans will use a procedural trick to do away with the filibuster with a simple majority. Thats called the nuclear option and it would lead to a real crisis in the Senate. Without the filibuster, the Senate might become a rubber stamp for Bushs anti-choice nominees.
posted:6/26/2003 2:22:00 PM CST
Julia: I have read that most of Bushs nominees have been confirmed and
only 2 are being filibustered? Why are Republicans so upset and claiming
a constitutional crisis? Isnt this just a plot to get rid of the filibuster
so they can get the Supreme Court nominee they want?
Blake Cornish: I think youve pretty much summed it up. That they are so exercised by two nominees being filibustered demonstrates how important the court-packing plan is to the far right --- and it really has two key purposes: ban abortion and ban affirmative action (and roll back environmental protection, worker rights, disability rights, gay and lesbian equality . . . )
posted:6/26/2003 2:25:00 PM CST
Sarah: Having experience working with college students while at FMF,
what do you think we can do to make sure this next generation takes up
the mantle of fighting for our reproductive rights, particularly considering
they werent even alive when abortion was illegal.
Justine Andronici: I think young people all over the United States care deeply about the right to choose. What we need to do more of, and what I know many of you are already doing, is educate people about the VERY REAL threat to choice posed by these virulently anti-choice judicial nominees, who if confirmed, will be in a position to lay the groundwork for overturning Roe. Also, I think it is essential that people speak out about the tremendous tragedy that befell women before abortion was legal. Working cross generationally to educate people about the threat -- we can ensure our rights are protected in the future.
posted:6/26/2003 2:26:00 PM CST
Celia: What Bush nominees has NARAL opposed and why?
Blake Cornish: You can check our web site for a complete list, but currently we are working hard to defeat Carolyn Kuhl, nominated to the Ninth Circuit. Kuhl, as a Reagan Administration official, was instrumental in getting the Administration to urge the Supreme Court to overrule Roe v. Wade. Another current nominee we hope to defeat is Bill Pryor. He has called Roe v. Wade the worst abomination in history. He has even supported an unconstitutional law in Alabama that would have appointed a lawyer to represent the interests of the fetus in any judicial bypass cases -- cases were a woman under 18 is looking for a bypass around the parental consent law.
posted:6/26/2003 2:29:00 PM CST
Pam: What do you think is so dangerous about Bushs appointment record?
Justine Andronici: President Bush has demonstrated that he is willing to nominate -- for lifetime appointments to the federal bench -- people who do not recognize a womans fundamental constitutional right to choose abortion.
posted:6/26/2003 2:30:00 PM CST
Pauline: Do you think the Supreme Court could really overturn Roe with
a majority of Americans supporting the right to choose?
Justine Andronici: You are right when you say a majority of Americans support the right to choose. Unfortunately several sitting Supreme Court Justices do not believe that the Constitution protects a womans fundamental right to choose abortion. In light of the very real possibility that there will be retirements on the Court soon, Roe v. Wade is in grave danger. Bushs track record on nominations strongly suggests that he will nominate to replace a retiring Justice someone who is willing to overturn Roe. Therefore, it is essential that pro-choice citizens speak up and get active now, to send a message to the Senate not to confirm an anti-choice Justice.
posted:6/26/2003 2:34:00 PM CST
Erin: Do you think that Bushs strategy of claiming the Democrats were
obstructionist with his judicial nominees was a big factor in the Republican
gains in the 2002 elections, or do you think that that strategy was not
as effective as some other strategy he and the Republican party used?
(ie, terrorism scares, war in iraq, etc)
Blake Cornish: I think 2002 was mostly about terrorism and security. Of course, the election was again decided by very narrow margins, and the judge issue energizes the far-right base. So the Republican base might have turned out more than Democratic base -- I dont know. Outside of pretty core activists, most Americans know very little about the fight over the lower courts, which is too bad because these are important decisions that will affect us for the next 20, 30 or even 40 years.
posted:6/26/2003 2:34:00 PM CST
Harry: What can grassroots activists do to protect the Roe v. Wade decision?
Blake Cornish: Lots. Join NARAL, Feminist Majority, NOW, People for the American Way, and other groups. Sign up for their action networks, so you can respond quickly to new developments. Talk to your friends and neighbors about the importance of the right to choose. Call, write, and meet your elected officials, and tell them how critical this right is, especially your Senators. Write letters to the editor and op-ed pieces. There are many local networks developing around judicial nominations -- town hall meetings, rallies, press conferences -- all these things are important, especially when they happen outside the Beltway. Contact any of the above groups for more info about networks in your state.
posted:6/26/2003 2:37:00 PM CST
Jen : what is the most urgent part of your job?
Justine Andronici: The most urgent part of my job is that we are literally in a race against time to save the right to choose for future generations. As we work to defeat the onslaught of anti-choice legislation in state legislatures and to prevent the anti-choice court-packing strategy of the current Administration, we are mindful that real womens lives hang in the balance if we loose Roe v. Wade.
posted:6/26/2003 2:40:00 PM CST
Annie: Ive heard that the decision in Lawrence v. Texas, wonderful as
it is, could actually have negative consequences for choice. Is this
true? If so, how?
Blake Cornish: I dont see how. The case was decided on 14th Amendment due process grounds, the same as Roe and Casey. And Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, cited Casey repeatedly to support the decision in Lawrence. So I think Lawrence should be helpful. Id like to hear what the basis of the concern was.
posted:6/26/2003 2:42:00 PM CST
deena: Im very excited about the huge march for choice next April and
Im organizing some people to go. What impact will the march have on the
political climate? Do you think we have a chance of affecting the presidential
Justine Andronici: I too am extremely excited by the MARCH. The pro-choice movement is galvanizing like never before to ensure that the voices of pro-choicers are heard at a critical time in our history as a nation. Roe v. Wade hangs by a thread in the Supreme Court, with the most recent decision on a womens right to choose divided 5-4, and President Bush poised to appoint the justice[s]
that could decide the fate of women for generations to come. The March provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to stand up for womens freedom and to protect our Constitutional right to privacy by showing our strength as a movement. The effect of the March will depend on the power that the people who come to Washington next April bring with them! I hope all of you will start now planning to bring not just yourself, but many many more people!
posted:6/26/2003 2:42:00 PM CST
Trixie: What reproductive rights issues will be at stake in the 2004
Blake Cornish: At the federal level three things: The Supreme Court, The Supreme Court and the Supreme Court. Of course there are other federal issues as well, but the Court is really hanging in the balance. Most abortion regulation happens at the state level, so many issues are at stake in state legislative races. Unfortunately, the anti-choice activists have been really successful in getting their people into state legislatures.
posted:6/26/2003 2:46:00 PM CST
Jules: I read an article in the post this weekend saying that Rehnquist
was not going to retire. Is this true? if he is not retiring who is?
Blake Cornish: Only Justice Rehnquist knows for sure. It does seem increasingly unlikely that he will retire any time soon, but Ill be staying on high alert through the end of next week, at least. The same is true of Justice OConnor, who was rumored to be considering retirement, but has said she has not plans to do so.Then there is Justice Stevens, who is 83 years old and the oldest member of the court. Most people expect him to stay -- hes healthy and engaged, but there was article yesterday suggesting he might actually retire. If he did, it would be a terrible day. Although he was appointed by a Republican, Gerald Ford, he is now the most liberal member of the court. (He says, with good reason, he has stayed the same but the court has become much more conservative.)
posted:6/26/2003 2:49:00 PM CST
Lexi: I get so frustrated when Republicans go on and on about Democrats
being obstructionist. Not only is it not true, they are the ones who
were obstructionist during the Clinton administration. Why dont the Democrats
bring to light the Republicans history? Why dont they also bring to light
that the Republicans are already winning the battle to pack the courts
with far right judges who have the potential to set back our rights in
so many areas (environment, choice, civil rights, labor, etc)?
Blake Cornish: Good point. We all try to get that story out more, but it doesnt happen. Can you write an opinion piece for your local paper to help tell that part of the story?
posted:6/26/2003 2:54:00 PM CST
Kelly: I know there is a trend in young people to identify as anti-choice/pro-life.
Do you foresee this changing in the future?
Blake Cornish: I certainly hope it will change, and many of us are working to help make that happen. Unfortunately, the anti-choice camp has been much more energized than the somewhat complacent pro-choice majority. Hopefully the March on Washington next April 25 will help to change this.
posted:6/26/2003 2:55:00 PM CST
Carrie: Suppose the Senate Republicans do choose to go nuclear and stop
the filibuster. What would actually happen then? Would there be a showdown?
What could Democrats do?
Blake Cornish: Its a good question and I really dont know the answer. It would be a real crisis. The Dems would be able to block certain things in retaliation, I think, but Im not sure what would happen.
posted:6/26/2003 2:57:00 PM CST
Moderator: Thank you for joining us today. It is important that you
now get involved in the fight to protect reproductive freedom. For more
information and to get involved visit either the NARAL Pro-choice America
website at http://www.naral.org or the Feminist Majority’s Million4Roe
campaign site at http://www.million4roe.com. We hope you will join us
again for our continuing June chat series, “Supreme Court in Peril.”
Blake Cornish: Thanks everyone. This has been great fun.
posted:6/26/2003 3:03:00 PM CST
Moderator: Thanks for participating.
Justine Andronici: I have really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with all of you. We are undoubtedly facing a challenging time, with anti-choice attacks coming from all sides --the extreme threat to choice posed by Bushs anti-choice judicial nominees, the state legislatures, Congress, and the Executive Branch. But I firmly believe that the commitment that you all bring to the issue will make the difference in protecting the right to choose for the future. If you have not already done so, get involved in efforts to protect freedom of choice today. Speak out about anti-choice judicial nominees, tell your friends, family and co-workers that the right to choose is threatend and now more than ever, pro-choice Americans must get involved. For more information and regular updates about Bushs anti-choice nominees, sign up for the Choice Action Network at www.prochoiceamerica.org
posted:6/26/2003 2:48:00 PM CST