Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Thinking about Roberts

Last week, I suggested in a post that I would withhold judgment on John Roberts, President Bush's nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor until I felt I could better judge his fitness for the Court. At the time, the only thing I really knew about him was that he was just another pro-corporate, anti-environment jurist of the right-wing variety. If I had the luxury of being choosy, I would vote against such a person on that basis alone. I do not, however, and thus I was wondering whether there was anything in Roberts' record to suggest that he was unfit for the Court.

I held that opinion until Monday when I read this article in the Post. In my mind, this article makes it very clear why Roberts (and probably every other reactionary the President would care to appoint to the Court) should not be consented to by the Senate. Two key passages helped change my mind. The first concerns voting rights:

"[M]emos by Roberts...argued for reining in the federal government's role in civil rights disputes. They indicate, for example, that he was at the center of articulating and defending the administration's policy that the Voting Rights Act -- a seminal law passed in 1965 and up for renewal in 1982 -- should in the future bar only voting rules that discriminate intentionally, rather than those that were shown to have a discriminatory effect."

The second passage concerns whether Title IX of the Civil Rights Act requires equal treatment of men and women in prison:

"Roberts argued against intervening in a sex discrimination case involving alleged disparities between training programs available to male and female prisoners in Kentucky. 'If equal treatment is required, the end result in this time of tight state prison budgets may be no programs for anyone,' he wrote."

Mull over those two passages. Assuming they correctly capture Roberts' approach to civil rights issues, I find them quite disturbing.

With regards to voting rights, the first passage strongly suggests that Roberts' does not view infringement of an individual's ability to vote as problematic as long as the action creating the infringement is not intended to discriminate against the person. Polls only open from 10AM until 2PM? That's okay, as long as it applies to everybody. Literacy tests? That's fine, as long as every one takes it. All polling places located on the 3rd floor? That's okay, as long as you're not doing it to burden the handicapped. See where this goes? Voting, one of the bedrock principals of our democracy, is protected ONLY against overt racial bias under Roberts' vision.

With regards to gender discrimination, Roberts' quote is just inane. Equal treatment leads to programs for none. I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous. Certainly, requiring equal treatment for male and female prisoners may place strain on prison budgets. But that hardly means that tight state budgets combined with equal programmatic requirements will lead to the demise of prison programs. Even if you assume that a state decreases its public safety budget by 20% in a budget year, that just means that prisons will have less to provide the programs with. But budget issues aside, the real problem here is that Roberts' appears to be saying that gender equality is bad because it might be expensive.

Did you know the price of cotton went up between 1860 and 1865 when, suddenly, there weren't any slaves to pick all that cotton for free? Imagine how expensive it was in 1918 for states who had to suddenly print twice as many ballots as they did the previous year when all those women came to vote. I don't think any rational person would argue, however, that we shouldn't have emancipated slaves or recognized that women have an equal right to vote. To deny those things would be wrong, and to deny them on the basis of cost (COST!) is downright despicable. This is what Roberts' seems to have said, and this is just another reason I have doubts about whether he ought to be confirmed.