Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Roberts, Law Enforcement and Reproductive Rights

The controversy over the now withdrawn NARAL ad attacking John Roberts, president Bush's nominee to the Supreme Court, obscured an important bit of history, and a fair question about Roberts' role in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic, the Supreme Court case at the heart of the ad controversy.

Gloria Feldt, who served as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1996-2005, recounts, in a recent article on Alternet, what it was like for clinics during the days of mob attacks by Operation Rescue. Prior to becoming president of PPFA, Feldt had headed the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Phoenix. Keep in mind, that OR was never a non-violent protest organization. They were more like angry mobs intent on interfering with people's constitutional rights to receive and to perform abortions. Criminal violence was often involved.

Feldt writes that Robert's legalistic amicus brief written in support of Operation Rescue's position, had the effect of supporting their activities. To say that Roberts was just doing his job in arguing a point of law before the court would have more merit, if he and his colleagues in the Bush Justice Department had chosen to take action to otherwise protect the rights of clinics and patients against the thuggery of Operation Rescue and similar groups operating at the time.

One does not have to agree with the NARAL ad to see that there is a wider problem of indifference to and arguably tacit support for Operation Rescue's highly public activities and the concurrent acts of violence. If this kind of activity had been directed against say banks, car dealers, newspapers or courthouses, the response of the Justice Department would have been quite different. Why the double standard? It is OK to look the other way when mobs attack legal health care organizations?

Here are some excerpts from Feldt's article:

"From 1977 to 2000, there were 675 blockades, 365 invasions, 322 death threats, 502 bomb threats, 112 assaults and batteries, 40 bombings, 16 attempted murders and 8 murders in the name of 'life.' I personally was stalked, picketed at home and subjected to death threats, in addition to enduring bomb and arson attempts, vandalism, and an invasion at the health centers for which I was responsible."

"The year Bray was decided, 1991, was smack in the middle of this period years. It was a pivotal time, before any murders had occurred. It was a moment of opportunity when the violence and harassment could have de-escalated if law enforcement at all levels had joined together and taken strong stands against it."

"One of the things I learned during this time was that local law enforcement takes many cues from the Justice Department, and further, that the Justice Department has a unique capacity to bring law enforcement at all levels together, to enhance the effectiveness of local law enforcement when it is overwhelmed by massive actions like OR. They can proactively set a pattern of enforcing the law and keeping the peace."

"Instead, the Bush I justice department -- with Ken Starr as its chief litigator and John Roberts as his top deputy, strategist and chief arguer -- did no such thing. Indeed, they chose to do just the opposite..."

"Though Roberts says he was merely arguing on behalf of the administration's position, in the end that is an inexcusable reason. He appeared twice before the Court to argue Bray, and appeared in the media to speak for his case. And though the case was decided 6-3 in favor of the protestors on a technicality concerning the law's applicability to this case, quotes from dissenting justices, including Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Roberts wants to fill, are telling...."

"Justice Stevens.... castigated the plaintiffs, saying, "[T]he demonstrations in the 1960's were motivated by a desire to extend the equal protection of the laws to all classes -- not to impose burdens on any disadvantaged class. ... The suggestion that there is an analogy between their struggle to achieve equality and these petitioners' concerted efforts to deny women equal access to a constitutionally protected privilege may have rhetorical appeal, but it is insupportable on the record before us."

"Justice O'Connor compared Operation Rescue's behavior to the Ku Klux Klan itself, noting that "[l]ike the Klan conspiracies, Congress tried to reach in enacting ยง1985(3), '[p]etitioners intended to hinder a particular group in the exercise of their legal rights because of their membership in a specific class."

"Am I saying then that John Roberts supports or condones violence? Of course not.... But I am saying that when he had a chance to weigh in and explicitly oppose the rising tide of violence that continued to escalate over the ensuing years, he did not. That is a serious question of character."


Blogger yodedp27 said...

Ahhh. John Roberts. The Man of Mystery. He is a Man of Mystery simply because the government, our government has ceased to trust the people (as Thomas Jefferson once did), and chooses to hide what it does not wish the public to know in its bid to appease the Christian Right who will do anything to get their people onto the Supreme Court.

2:08 PM  

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