Jul 20 - In announcing his nominee to the United States Supreme Court last night, President Bush placed his weight behind a resolutely conservative appellate judge who many believe has a good chance of gaining support from moderate Democrats but is nonetheless expected to shift the nationâ€™s highest court decisively to the right.
Though federal appellate Judge John G. Roberts Jr. is not considered extreme in comparison to some of Bushâ€™s embattled picks for lower courts, he co-authored a legal brief arguing that the landmark Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion "was wrongly decided and should be overruled."
Under the Reagan administration he worked to help dilute the hard-fought Voting Rights Act, and when employed in the Solicitor Generalâ€™s office under George H.W. Bushâ€™s presidency, Roberts convinced the Supreme Court to limit the circumstances under which citizens can challenge governmental actions that affect the environment.
Robertâ€™s relatively sparse record, expected to assist in smoothing his upcoming confirmation process in the Senate, has public interest groups concerned over issues of reproductive freedom, consumer and worker protection, environmental conservation and civil rights including freedom of speech.
Right wing and conservative groups largely praised Bushâ€™s choice to fill retiring Justice Sandra Day Oâ€™Connorâ€™s coveted seat.
But while the vast majority of Senate Democrats have so far refrained from publicly judging Roberts, liberal and progressive advocacy organizations are already raising objections to his nomination and are urging lawmakers to thoroughly vet his record and positions on controversial issues.
"John Robertsâ€™ record raises serious concerns and questions about where he stands on crucial legal and constitutional issues," said Ralph G. Neas, president of the pro-democracy group, People For the American Way, in a press statement. "It will be critical for Senators and the American people to get answers to those questions."
"Replacing O'Connor with someone who is not committed to upholding Americans' rights, liberties, and legal protections would be a constitutional catastrophe," he continued.
Roberts is currently a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. From that bench, to which he was nominated by President Bush in 2003, he has issued several controversial opinions, including a statement challenging the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act as it applies to private developmentâ€™s impact on animals in jeopardy of extinction.
But progressive groups say Robertâ€™s record from before he was nominated to the appellate court raises even more concern. As a lawyer working for and arguing cases during the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, Robert asserted that the government had no role in working to eliminate segregation as an effect of prior discrimination, that schools should be allowed to sponsor prayer at graduation, and that banning flag burning would not be unconstitutional.
As a lawyer with the private law firm, Roberts took the side of Toyota in its efforts to deny job protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act to an assembly-line employee who had acquired work-related carpal tunnel syndrome; he helped the FOX Television conglomerate confront media ownership regulations in Washington, DC; he argued against affirmative action programs in government contracting; and he assisted in defending against a challenge of West Virginiaâ€™s policy of granting permits for mountaintop removal strip mining.
In a more recent case, Roberts joined two other federal judges to overturn a previous decision and rule that the US government can try Salim Ahmed Hamdan and other prisoners held at GuantÃ¡namo Bay, Cuba in special military tribunals instead of civilian trials. That ruling came down just last week, while President Bush was evaluating Roberts for the Supreme Court seat.