Judicial nominee defends record in Senate hearing

Thursday, October 23, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Under fire from Democrats, federal appellate nominee Janice Rogers Brown on Wednesday defended speeches and decisions she made as a conservative California jurist and promised to rule fairly if promoted to one of the nation's highest courts.

"I have only one agenda when I approach a case, and that is to try to get it right," she told the Senate Judiciary Committee at her confirmation hearing.

Republicans say opposition to her nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has more to do with the fact she is a conservative black woman who might one day rise to the Supreme Court.

"She is a conservative African-American woman, and for some that alone disqualifies her nomination to the D.C. Circuit," said committee chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Democrats say they oppose Brown because of her decisions and philosophy, not her race. "There's a lot in your record that troubles me and I think you've got a tough row to hoe up here," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who has led filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominees.

The 12-member D.C. appeals court decides important government cases involving separation of powers, the role of the federal government, the responsibilities of federal officials and the authority of federal agencies. It now has five Republican and four Democratic appointees.

The committee did not say when it would vote on Brown's nomination, but she is likely to advance past the GOP-controlled committee to the Senate floor. Democrats already are filibustering three of Bush's conservative nominations there.

Three current Supreme Court justices have been promoted from the D.C. court. It has been a point of contention between Republicans and Democrats all year, with Democrats blocking Hispanic lawyer Miguel Estrada until he dropped out of his nomination earlier this year.

Republicans complained that Democrats and liberal groups opposed Estrada and Brown simply because they are conservative minorities. They pointed to an Internet cartoon depicting Bush calling Brown "Clarence" as he introduces her to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Brown said the cartoon brought a friend of hers to tears, and that her mother refused to attend Wednesday's hearing because of anticipated verbal abuse.

"People have said to me, 'Well, you know, it's not personal, it's just politics, not personal,"' Brown said. "I just want to say to you that is personal, it's very personal to the nominees and the people who care about them."

Democrats condemned the cartoon while continuing to criticize her speeches and judicial decisions.

Brown supports limits on abortion rights and corporate liability and opposes affirmative action.

"Justice Brown, your record is that of a conservative judicial activist, plain and simple," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "You frequently dismiss judicial precedence ... when it doesn't comport with your political views."

Brown said she would keep her personal opinions out of her future work. "I absolutely understand the difference in roles in being a speaker and being a judge," she told the committee.

Durbin quoted Brown as saying, "Where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies."

"You have described the year 1937 -- the year in which President Roosevelt's New Deal legislation started taking effect -- as 'the triumph of our socialist revolution,"' Durbin said. "Given that the federal government and its role in our lives is your major responsibility if you're appointed to the D.C. Circuit court, I hope you can understand why some people have taken great issue with statements you have made and the philosophy which you bring before this committee."

Brown said she was speaking to an audience of young law students and was trying to make them think. But she stood by the statements. "The speech speaks for itself," she said.

On the Net:

Justice Department information on Brown: http://www.usdoj.gov/olp/brown.htm

Brown cartoon: http://www.blackcommentator.com/54/54--cartoon--female--clarence.html

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