We Americans are so divided on so many important matters that often there are no national consensus on an important public issue. Abortion is a hotly agitated and really divisive issue in the country but a huge majority of Americans clearly favor Roe V. Wade, the controversial case in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that certain abortions were constitutional. A Republican senate and White House now have at least a chance of ending Wade; notwithstanding the clear majority consensus in favor of the case and that is the “bottom line” in the on-going senate confirmation hearings of Judge John Roberts to be the next Chief Justice of the United States.
The struggle over legal abortions changed the day George W. Bush entered the White House and he, Republican leaders and so-called rightwing “right-to-life” people decided to try and kill wade through the “advise and consent” power of the senate. Two U.S. Supreme Court Justices were then 80 years old, tired and probably would retire. The question for the Republicans was whether they could muster enough votes in the senate then controlled by Democrats to have an anti-abortionist new justice approved to sit on the highest court. The Wade case was decided and hangs by a single vote. Republicans chose an indirect but interesting strategy.
President Bush asked the senate to promote U.S. District Court Judge Charles Pickering of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, a man despised by black lawyers, to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. That court is larger than the Supreme Court and oversees appeals from Mississippi, Texas and Louisiana, a region that is 42 percent black. Pickering admitted to having been a racist and segregationist 35 years ago, but claimed to be “redeemed.” These political “redemptions” only materialized after blacks gained the right to vote, but Pickering claims he grew wiser with the passage of time.
A few years ago, I was part of a team of lawyers litigating a class action in Pickering’s Hattiesburg court and my impression of the man coincided with my impressions of many of his judicial colleagues, a self-righteous imperious, white Southern fraud. Our clients, poor individual plaintiffs (mostly but not all blacks) had no chance in Pickering’s court against the rich corporate defendants. I was hardly surprised later when during Pickering’s confirmation hearings; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions called Pickering “a fair and just man.” Sessions himself was once denied a judgeship by the senate because of racism exhibited in a so-called vote fraud case in which I defended Albert Turner, Sr. What else is new?
But, the wily Republicans hoped to overturn the Wade case by placing the likes of Pickering on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Their strategy was predicated on the fact that an angry, white, Southern male politician in the senate, Zell Miller of Georgia, is only a Democrat in name and if Pickering’s nomination could reach the senate floor, 49 Republican votes and Miller’s vote would place Pickering on a court just beneath highest court in the land. The Bush Administration would then use this same strategy to place an anti-abortionist justice on the U.S. Supreme Court who would provide the one vote necessary to overrule Wade. So, Pickering was really a “trial balloon” to get rid of Wade.
It didn’t work.
Ten Democrats stuck together and outvoted nine Republicans to kill the Pickering nomination in the judiciary committee. Several Democrats then bluntly warned the Bush Administration that while they would confirm so-called conservative nominees to the lower courts but that no extreme rightwing, anti-abortionist nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court would get out of the judiciary committee. The Republicans decided to wait until the next election when they went out and systematically disfranchised thousands of black voters in the key states of Florida and Ohio, and predictably a five vote republican majority in the Supreme Court gave the election to Bush.
I find all that disgusting, and I am deeply angered that Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee routinely insult 40 million African-Americans during confirmation hearings almost as a matter of course. It is as if blacks don’t exist, don’t count and our feelings don’t matter. I remember all the talk about Pickering’s alleged redemption from racism, and how each white committee member anxiously went on the record to say Pickering is not a racist. Mississippi and the South are not as openly racist as in the past, but they remain racist to the core and that of course includes Pickering. In white parlance, however, one is not a racist unless he wears a white sheet and publicly confesses his racist feelings.
Republican senate staffers (and even The New York Times) went into Mississippi and interviewed hundreds of so-called moderate blacks with loaded and naïve questions. As expected, the carefully picked blacks mostly and publicly “favored” the promotion of Pickering. No one was surprised that Charles Evans, the two-bit hustling brother of slained civil rights hero Medgar Evans, praised Pickering while holding out both of his empty hands, naturally. The NAACP, which has done more for civil rights than Mississippi and the government combined, opposed Pickering and so did each of its chapters in the state. The entire black delegation in the Mississippi legislature opposed Pickering.
The New York Times was not involved in any racist ploy or conspiracy, but this liberal-leaning newspaper often doesn’t have a clue to the complicated racist subtleties and nuances that crowd Southern politics and life. Left-leaning newspapers often don’t know the difference between interviewing George Evans, Benny Tucker, Yusuf Salaam and Hank Sanders. They just see them all as black politicians. The Republican senate staffers were just doing their job and trying to make a racist nominee appear fair and hopefully with the help of whatever blacks they could find.
The federal judiciary is so far to the right in 2005 that it has little respect and support in black America. The overwhelming majority of federal judges are so-called conservative republicans appointed by Richard Nixon, Jerry Ford, Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes. Pickering is almost representative of the federal bench in the South. For 40 years I have had serious questions whether any white man (particularly a Southern white man) sitting as a judge really understands the sad and angry black prisoners who stand before him. Indeed, does any white person (judge or otherwise) understand black America?
Years ago, I concluded that the average white judge, no matter how decent, cannot possibly understand what produces the army of angry young black male criminals who appear before him and that many of these judges do not think that trying to understand that complicated process is part of the job. White judges have not experienced the environment, the frustration that goes with being black in America. I’ve dealt with judges who used bail as punishment against blacks and poor whites. I suppose that makes political sense (at least in the short run) but a bail bond basically guarantees the defendant will return to court and it does not supercede or vitiate the constitutional presumption of innocence.
Big city Southern newspapers routinely do a lousy job of reporting on crime. They often headline that the accused was arrested two blocks from the crime and he had a knife. They don’t bother to add that the Boy Scout knife was in his pocket and had no blood on it. The white press is a cornerstone of the establishment, and in the South is often the backward voice of the Republican Party personified but in thin disguise.
I have far less interest in what President’s Bush’s new nominee to be Chief Justice of the United States thinks about abortions and the right to privacy than in his concern for and knowledge of the people who live in the Ninth Wards of this rich nation and are forced to inhabit superdomes during times of large disaster. We know what Mr. Bush thinks.
ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH
We published an article entitled “A Saudiless Arabia” by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the “Article”), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the “Website”).
Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.
As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.
We are pleased to clarify the position.
August 17, 2005