Democrats Slam GOP Portrayal of Former Justice Marshall

Posted June 28, 2010 at 5:34pm

Senate Democrats lashed out at their Republican counterparts Monday, denouncing GOP attacks on former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall during the Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings on high court hopeful Elena Kagan.

Kagan, the current solicitor general, clerked for Marshall in the 1980s and has listed the civil rights icon as one of her judicial heroes. Judiciary Committee Republicans, including ranking member Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), attacked Marshall as an out-of-the-mainstream liberal during their opening remarks Monday.

In his opening statement, Sessions called Marshall a “well-known activist judge” who used his power “to redefine the meaning of the words of our Constitution and laws in ways that, not surprisingly, have the result of advancing the judge’s preferred social policies for the country.”

Likewise, Cornyn argued that “from his self-described judicial philosophy and his performance on the bench, it is clear that Justice Marshall was a judicial activist as I have described that phrase earlier. Thurgood Marshall described his judicial philosophy as ‘do what you think is right and let the law catch up.'”

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), denounced those attacks Monday evening.

“Standing up for the rights of everyday Americans against powerful forces may be ‘out of the mainstream’ in the Republican Party, but not in the rest of America,” Manley said. “The only thing out of the mainstream at today’s hearings were Republicans who want to give big corporations and special interests more power and more influence over Americans’ lives.

“Solicitor General Kagan should be proud that her mentor, Justice Thurgood Marshall, dedicated his career to fairness and equality for all,” he added. “These are not Democratic or Republican values; they are American values.”

The Democratic National Committee’s rapid-response operation also swung into action against Republicans, sending out a series of e-mails highlighting the GOP’s attacks. For instance, the DNC quickly circulated news accounts about an MSNBC interview with Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) in which he accused Marshall of being an activist judge. He added that it is “hard to say” whether he would have voted to confirm him as a justice in 1967.