Activists Focus on Supreme Court Picks

Posted July 28, 2004 at 4:48pm

Democratic lawmakers addressed the possibility that the 44th president of the United States may end up selecting two, three or even four new Supreme Court justices during his term in office, warning convention-goers Tuesday morning that the judicial branch is poised to swing securely to the right unless Democrats retake the White House and the Senate in 2004.

“We have a job of preserving and saving the Constitution. It is in big trouble,” said Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) during a panel discussion Tuesday on the future of the federal judiciary. “Thank God nobody quit the Supreme Court before we can win on Nov. 2.”

It has been a decade since Stephen Breyer was confirmed as an associate justice, making this the longest interval without a Supreme Court vacancy in 181 years — so long ago that James Monroe was president.

With vacancies historically popping up every couple of years, and with many of the sitting justices getting up in years, court observers say a retirement is long overdue. And with many decisions on the closely-divided court decided by 5-4 or 6-3 splits, the power to name one or two new justices could confer enormous influence on whoever wins the 2004 election.

Tuesday’s discussion, sponsored by the non-profit organization People for the American Way and moderated by film star and liberal activist Alec Baldwin, presented some fine photo opportunities for the Democratic activists who sipped coffee at the early morning event.

In addition to Conyers, the event featured famed Democratic strategist James Carville, Texas Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Charlie Gonzalez and PFAW President Ralph Neas.

The gloves came off when Conyers and other panelists accused the Bush administration and Republican lawmakers of eroding the Constitution through the Patriot Act, the Defense of Marriage Amendment and other measures.

Not since the Palmer raids of 1921 — a series of intrusive actions that targeted alleged communists and other left-wing individuals — “have we had an attorney general who’s as out of control as John Ashcroft is,” Conyers said.

Gonzalez, a member of the Homeland Security Committee, charged that the war on terrorism and other measures by Republicans in Congress, including legislation that would deny the courts jurisdiction to review claims against state marriage laws, have led to an “eroding” of the court’s powers.

“What they’re doing is slowly eroding a co-equal branch of government,” Gonzalez said.

“The Patriot Act is the law of the land, but we’re constantly being intimidated by its use,” Lee said.