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Feminist Majority "Supreme Court in Peril" Chat Series of 2003

fernandesJulie Fernandes, Special Counsel
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR)

Julie A. Fernandes is the Senior Policy Analyst/Special Counsel for the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund. LCCR is comprised of more than 180 national organizations working for social and economic justice. This coalition of organizations is working hard to block Bush’s strategy of nominating far right judges, packing the courts with judges who have the potential to turn back the clock on a range of hard won rights. With a Supreme Court retirement, or even two, possible at the end of the month, the battle to ensure nominees will protect our rights while on the federal bench has never been more important.

Moderator: Hello.
Julie Fernandes: Hello.
posted:6/9/2003 2:00:00 PM CST

Jessica: What is LCCRs strategy to block a far-right US Supreme Court nominee?
Julie Fernandes: LCCR is working with other groups concerned about protecting civil and constitutional rights to educate the public about President Bushs plan to pack the federal courts, including the Supreme Court, with right-wing extremists. We will continue that work and, if and when a vacancy occurs on the Supreme Court, press members of the Senate to ensure that any new member of that court is committed to protecting our rights and fundamental freedoms.
posted:6/9/2003 2:01:00 PM CST

Dan: Can you talk about why the filibuster strategy is so vital?
Julie Fernandes: Just as the threat of a filibuster and the need for 60 votes to end debate often forces a bills proponents to agree to compromises in order to gain passage, the need for 60 votes should persuade the Bush Administration to stop nominating extremists to the federal bench who are singularly committed to rolling back our rights. Moreover, President Bushs nominees who are on the far right extreme of legal thought should not be confirmed for lifetime appointments to the federal bench. The filibuster strategy sends that message.
posted:6/9/2003 2:04:00 PM CST

Marie: Hi Julie, What sort of grassroots work has LCCR been doing to reach out to young people in the struggle to ensure a fair and impartial judiciary?
Julie Fernandes: We have been working with our coalition partners and other organizations that care about saving our federal courts to organize grassroots across the country, including young people. We need to do more to get the message out about the urgency of this issue and the need to mobilize our forces to send a clear message to the Bush Administration that all of our rights are at stake.
posted:6/9/2003 2:10:00 PM CST

Jonathan: The President has promised to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. What is a strict constructionist and what types of nominees should we expect to see?
Julie Fernandes: The term strict constructionist has often been used as code for extremely right wing. President Bush has said that he would appoint nominees to the Supreme Court who are in the mold of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. During their time on the Court, Scalia and Thomas have consistently taken extreme right wing views on a number of civil rights issues. A close look at many of those decisions reveals not necessarily a coherent theory of constitutional interpretation, but rather a view that is consistently hostile to the interests of protecting civil and human rights.
posted:6/9/2003 2:13:00 PM CST

Shayda Naficy: How can I influence who is appointed to the upcoming Supreme Court vacancies; how can I influence the process or final decision?Thank You.
Julie Fernandes: Any new nominee to the supreme court must ultimately be confirmed by the u.s. senate. Therefore, you will have the most influence by joining with others in your community to identify the issues that are important to you (such as protecting Congress role in ensuring civil rights for all Americans) and communicating to your Senators that any new member of the Supreme Court should share a commitment to those important principles.
posted:6/9/2003 2:18:00 PM CST

Katherine: I live in a state where both my Senators are actively opposing extreme right-wing judicial nominations. What can I do, beyond thanking my Senators, to make sure the federal courts arent packed with extremists?
Julie Fernandes: First, you should be sure to continue to thank your Senators for standing firm against the confirmation of extremists to the federal courts. In addition, you can work to help educate others (both within your state and outside it) about the importance of this issue for all Americans.
posted:6/9/2003 2:20:00 PM CST

Joy: How would you respond to people who say that the Democrats use of a filibuster is hypocritical, since they opposed the filibuster against the Civil Rights Act?
Julie Fernandes: In the history of the Senate, the filibuster has long been a tool used to foster compromise, whether on legislation or nominations. It is also, in many ways, a more open and honest tool than the anonymous holds and refusals to grant hearings on nominees that were employed by the Republican majority during the Clinton Administration. Right now, with an Administration that has refused to take the Senates advise and consent role seriously, the filibuster is one of the few tools left for those who are set on protecting against the rolling back of our rights.
posted:6/9/2003 2:22:00 PM CST

Emilia: Can you explain the legal definition of a fillibuster?
Julie Fernandes: In order for a vote to take place in the full senate, there must be agreement to end debate. If the parties cannot agree to end debate, a Senator may file a motion that will force it to end. That motion needs 60 votes to pass. A filibuster is the act of preventing the end of debate, which can be achieved by the majority failing to receive 60 votes to end debate.
posted:6/9/2003 2:27:00 PM CST

Sasha: I understand the threat to Roe v. Wade currently in the Supreme Court and the Bush Administration. What other issues are at stake as we anticipate a Supreme Court retirement?
Julie Fernandes: Many of the Administrations nominees to the federal bench have extremely right wing records in the areas of civil rights, environmental health and safety, workers rights, and consumer protection and corporate responsibility. In the area of civil rights, these records include pressing for federal tax exemptions for Bob Jones University, despite its policies of racial discrimination; seeking to limit or strike down important civil rights laws, such as the ADA and the Violence Against Women Act; and consistently ruling against civil rights plaintiffs.
posted:6/9/2003 2:31:00 PM CST

Sandra: As activists, what should we be most concerned about concerning the make-up of the federal courts?
Julie Fernandes: The federal appellate courts, which are one level below the Supreme Court, are very powerful in deciding questions involving federal laws and constitutional interpretation. Their word is law in the overwhelming number of cases, given the small number of cases heard by the Supreme Court each year. We should all be concerned about President Bushs plan to pack the federal courts with right-wing extremists who have a clear ideological agenda to erode important civil and constitutional rights that protect all of us.
posted:6/9/2003 2:35:00 PM CST

Julie: How do you think affirmative action will be affected by the retirement of a Supreme Court Justice?
Julie Fernandes: As you know, we are still awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court in the University of Michigan affirmative action cases, so the verdict is not yet in on the fate of affirmative action with the current make-up of the Court. Putting that to one side, while we dont know who will be the next retirement from the Court, we do know that if President Bush keeps to his promise to nominate a Justice is the mold of Scalia and Thomas, that person will most surely take a dim view of affirmative action and other programs that help ensure equal opportunity in Americas school and workplaces.
posted:6/9/2003 2:39:00 PM CST

carrie tilton-jones: Im not sure what a circuit court judge does. I know the potential Supreme Court vacancy is crucial to protecting Roe, but could you give me an idea of whats at stake in a circuit court nomination? What kinds of issues come before them?
Julie Fernandes: The federal circuit courts of appeal are one level below the Supreme Court. They have jurisdiction to decide all cases involving or interpreting federal law, including the constitution. The country is devided up into 11 regional courts of appeal and two specialized ones. These courts are the final word on questions of law within their jurisdiction. The federal appeals courts decide over 28,000 cases a year. The Supreme Court, in contrast, decides fewer than 100 cases a year. Thus, the overwhelming majority of decisions by the appeals courts are the final word, which makes them, in many ways, the most powerful courts in the country.
posted:6/9/2003 2:43:00 PM CST

Amy: Besides affirmative action, what other rights could people lose if an extremist judge were appointed to the court?
Julie Fernandes: Many of President Bushs nominees are leading advocates in the so-called states rights movement, which has as its cornerstone limiting Congress power to pass legislation that protected our civil rights. If these nominees have their way, the federal government will no longer have a role in ensuring that workplaces and schools are free from discrimination based on race, gender, or disability; in protecting the environment; or in protecting workplace health and safety rules.
posted:6/9/2003 2:48:00 PM CST

ADA: In the past, judicial nominees have dodged questions about the views on such issues as abortion and affirmative action. How do we go about combating this lack of information?
Julie Fernandes: Just as we know that President Bush is selecting nominees for the federal courts based on ideology, we must work to obtain as much information as possible about the judicial philosophy and ideology of pending nominees, publicize their records, and push for ensuring taht nominees with extreme right-wing views on civil and consitutional rights not be confirmed.
posted:6/9/2003 2:51:00 PM CST

Feminist Grrl: One of my Senators is extremely conservative. Is there any point in calling or writing his office to state my opposition to conservative judicial nominees? Is there anything else I can do?
Julie Fernandes: It is always important to make your voice heard with your represenatives in Congress. Even if you think they will not agree with you, they are still your representatives, and you should keep the heat on. You can also try to work with others in your community to educate folks on the importance of these issues, and try to promote their involvement as well.
posted:6/9/2003 2:53:00 PM CST

diane: It is great that LCCR, the Feminist Majority, and a whole coalition of groups are working to protect our rights on the federal courts. How successful have you been in blocking far right nominees? How many of these have already gone through? What does this mean for the federal courts and the protection of our rights?
Julie Fernandes: While the Senate has confirmed the overwhelming majority of President Bushs nominations to the federal court, we have been very pleased that Senate Democrats have drawn the line against confirming two far right extremist nominees -- Priscilla Owen and Miguel Estrada. But our work is far from over. Nominees such as Carolyn Kuhl, Terrence Boyle, a former staffer to Senator Jesse Helms, and Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor, pose continued threats to our rights and must be defeated by any means necessary.
posted:6/9/2003 2:57:00 PM CST

Moderator: Thanks for participating.
Julie Fernandes: Thanks to the Feminist Majority and to all of you for your great questions. Together, we can succeed in saving our courts!
posted:6/9/2003 3:00:00 PM CST

Moderator: Goodbye!
Julie Fernandes: Thank you for joining us today. I hope that you will be inspired to get involved in this very important fight to protect our rights. For more information about judicial nominations and getting involved visit either the LCCR website at http://www.civilrights.org/issues/nominations or the Feminist Majority’s Million4Roe campaign site . We hope you will join us again for our continuing June chat series, “Supreme Court in Peril.”
posted:6/9/2003 3:10:00 PM CST

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