John Roberts is a "Katrina Conservative"

  • Bob Fertik's picture
    Bob Fertik
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Bush stole the White House in 2000 in part by calling himself a "compassionate conservative."

But actions speak louder than words, and Bush's response to Hurricane Katrina revealed how compassionless he really is when it comes to the poor.

So it's time to give the Busheviks the label they have earned at the cost of 10,000 lives: "Katrina Conservatives."

John Roberts is a quintessential "Katrina Conservative," as Marjorie Cohn describes so concisely:

Most of the tragic images flashing across our television screens are of African Americans. They are suffering indescribable hardship as a result of an administration that failed to protect them from the predicted hurricane, and then failed to timely render aid that would have saved thousands of lives.

John Roberts' career has established his credentials as an uncompassionate conservative. He has worked consistently to deny access to the courts to individuals who have suffered harm like those in New Orleans. He has long been an enemy of civil rights - for the poor, for minorities, for women, for the disabled, for workers, and for a clean and safe environment.

Roberts tried to cut back the federal law that allows people to sue the government when they have been deprived of their federal rights. When he worked at the Solicitor General's office in the George Bush I administration, Roberts wrote an amicus brief in which he argued that the state of Virginia should not reimburse hospitals for Medicaid claims at reasonable rates. Roberts said the Medicaid Act did not create any enforceable rights. Roberts would likely deny relief to people in New Orleans who seek to recover medical costs from a government that failed to protect them.

Roberts viewed legislation to fortify the Fair Housing Act as "government intrusion."

Roberts condemned a Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas law that allowed schools to deny admission to the children of undocumented workers.

Roberts fought for a narrow interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that would have made it much harder for minorities to get elected to public office. He mischaracterized the Act as requiring "a quota system for electoral politics." Robert's characterization of the Voting Rights Act borders on racism.

Roberts contended that Congress could pass a law to prevent all federal courts from ordering busing to achieve school desegregation, a position much more extreme than that adopted by the Reagan administration. Roberts would likely have agreed with his boss William Rehnquist, who argued to his boss Justice Robert Jackson that the racist Plessy v. Ferguson's separate but equal doctrine should be maintained.

Roberts took the position that affirmative action programs are bound to fail because they require recruiting "inadequately prepared candidates," another unfounded and racist stance.

Roberts has referred to the "so-called 'right to privacy'" in the Constitution; he argued that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overruled. Roberts' position would consign poor women who could not afford to travel to a state that does allow abortion to coat hangers in back alleys. Roberts would likely vote to uphold state laws that made the sale of contraceptives illegal, which the Court struck down in Griswold v. Connecticut.

Roberts worked to keep women who have suffered gender discrimination out of court. He argued for a narrow interpretation of Title IX that would effectively eviscerate its protections altogether. Roberts wrote an amicus brief in which he argued that a student who was sexually molested by her high school teacher was not entitled to compensatory damages under Title IX. Fortunately, the Supreme Court held otherwise, saying that the girl would have "no remedy at all" if it had adopted Roberts' position.

Roberts ridiculed the gender pay equity theory of equal pay for comparable work as a "radical redistributive concept." He mocked female Republican members of Congress who supported comparable worth, writing, "Their slogan might as well be 'from each according to his ability, to each according to her gender.'"

Roberts supported a dramatic weakening of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. He maintained that a deaf student who got by in school by lip-reading and using a hearing aid was not entitled under the Act to receive the services of a sign-language interpreter in the classroom.

Roberts defended Toyota for firing a woman with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Roberts argued on behalf of the National Mining Association that West Virginia citizens could not prevent mining companies from extracting coal by blasting the tops off of mountains and depositing the debris in nearby valleys and streams.

Throughout his career, John Roberts has acted without "goodwill and decency toward others." His positions have demonstrated a mean spirit that flies in the face of what we like to think America stands for. The 50-year-old Roberts would have the opportunity to shape the nation's highest court for the next two or three decades. A Roberts Court would threaten the rights of all but the rich and powerful. It is time for the Democrats to utter the "f" word: Filibuster.

Roberts is claiming the mantle of his neofascist mentor, William Rehnquist, as described by Bruce Shapiro:

... in 1952, young William Rehnquist went to Washington as a clerk to Justice Robert Jackson. The Court that year was considering Brown v. Board of Education. The young Rehnquist took it upon himself to write a now-notorious memo to his boss, arguing mightily that Plessy, the New Orleans segregation precedent, "was right and should be reaffirmed." Rehnquist lost the argument with his boss, but spent the rest of his career assailing what he later called "attempts on the part of this court to protect minority rights."

Chief Justice Rehnquist embodied the historical trajectory, political obsessions and strategic cunning of the conservative counter-revolution. As a clerk in the 1950s, he railed not only against Brown, but against justices on the court whom he called "old women," who were reluctant to swiftly execute Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In retrospect, that clerkship with Jackson was the Big Bang of Rehnquist's mental universe: It unleashed the political and legal preoccupations--turning back civil rights, empowering the national security state, removing impediments to vigorous punishment--which nourished Rehnquist for decades. In the end no one, not even Ronald Reagan, cast such a long shadow over the Constitution as William Rehnquist.

Much was made, in the hours after Rehnquist's death, of his roles in Bush v. Gore and in presiding over President Clinton's impeachment trial. But for all the partisan passions involved, Bush v. Gore and impeachment were sideshows to the main event of Rehnquist's career: dismantling the New Deal-Warren Court edifice of expansive civil rights laws and progressive federal government. As a Republican lawyer in Phoenix, Rehnquist fought against the desegregation of public accommodations, and challenged the qualifications of black voters in the polling place. As Richard Nixon's Deputy Attorney General, Rehnquist drew the legal map for the greatest grab of presidential power in history, defending Nixon's unauthorized invasion of Cambodia, his widespread wiretapping and the break-ins directed at political dissidents and preventative detention. Appointed Associate Justice by Nixon in 1972, he escaped being directly tainted by the Watergate cover-up--though the scandal had been driven by the very surveillance practices he had helped establish.

As Associate Justice and then Chief, Rehnquist cannily shaped a new and frankly contradictory theory of federalism--at first as a frequent dissenter against the twilight of Supreme Court liberalism, and increasingly, after 1980, in the majority. He fought for limiting the power of Congress and federal courts to enforce civil rights, desegregate schools or regulate business in the public interest.

He was equally fierce in his commitment to policing, prisons and every element of social control: undercutting the Miranda ruling's limitations on search-and-seizure; carving out exceptions to the exclusionary rule and upholding pretrial detention; opposing gay rights and dissenting twice against the legalization of abortion, first in Roe v. Wade in 1972 and again twenty years later in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Rehnquist voted with the court majority in 1976 to restore capital punishment after its four-year abolition from the American landscape. When it came to the death penalty, Rehnquist remained pitiless to the end. He upheld the death penalty for minors and the retarded, writing in Herrera vs. Collins in 1992 that new evidence of innocence is no bar to execution.

Rehnquist's presence on the Supreme Court when Reagan arrived in Washington made him the key figure in the long strategy to establish permanent Republican control of all three branches of the federal government. It is striking how beneath his constitutional arguments, so many of Rehnquist's dissents and majority opinions track back to the politics of resentment and fear played so effectively Nixon, Reagan and both Bushes: white resentment of civil rights, corporate resentment of regulation, fear of crime, fear of sexuality.

Rehnquist's success at transferring this frankly political strategy to the judiciary made him the role model for the young Turks who arrived in Washington with Reagan--Ken Starr, Clarence Thomas, Theodore Olson--and have never left. The Chief Justice's legacy thus includes not only his own body of opinions and dissents but also the potent Republican judicial patronage machine. This is the locus his real influence over Bush v. Gore and Clinton's impeachment. John G. Roberts Jr., once Rehnquist's clerk, is now his nominated but as-yet-unconfirmed successor. His rulings and briefs give every indication that he is a true acolyte: expansive in his views of executive power, derisive when it comes to limits on law enforcement, restrictive in his view of federal courts' civil rights authority.

The terrible events of recent days should force the entire country to look back at where such doctrines, taken for granted in the Rehnquist era, come from and where they lead. That means looking back at New Orleans 110 years ago. It is heartbreaking to imagine a black New Orleans so proud and idealistic that it could not imagine the Supreme Court would betray its aspirations. It is sobering to look back at New Orleans, not just as the beloved city of jazz and restaurants but as the legal birthplace of Plessy vs. Ferguson and thus of the Supreme Court's approval of racial segregation and of the state's rights theories that served as segregation's bulwark.

And it is important to remember that William Rehnquist showed so little regard for the social consequences that follow from his unrelenting application of conservative legal theory. The legacy of segregation, of "states' rights," of "limited government," is visible in the ranks of the dead and those made homeless by this storm. To look back is to look forward with clear eyes. But like his mentor, Justice Rehnquist, Judge Roberts pledged himself to the conservative faith as a young man, and has never once looked back.

Comments

That's a brilliant frame!

  • Morgaine Swann's picture
    Morgaine Swann
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We need to use these everywhere : Katrina Conservatives, and Conservative Elites.

Support the Women's Autonomy and Sexual Sovereignty Movements

I am convinced

  • cleo's picture
    cleo
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Do you think that there will be enough people in the Senate to see through Roberts all too boy-next-door look to the rigid, prejudiced soul inside? Everyday I get more and more frightened that we are boxing ourselves into an unfeeling world where very few will have any rights or privileges and the majority of people will get only the scraps left behind. Rehnquist twisted the law so that it secured the rights of the ruling class. I think that the Senate should use every ploy that they can muster to see all of Roberts' papers. His lack of memory about the Federalist Society and his trip to Florida in 2000 is only tip of the iceberg.