Sounding The Alarm
July 11, 2005 - 4:05pm ET
Popular This Week
Also Worth Reading
So that open Supreme Court seat everyone's talking about...should it be a big deal? The consensus of a panel discussion I attended this morning—organized by Ms. Magazine at the National Press Club—was that it most certainly should be a big deal. Perhaps anticipating the question of whether we are all overreacting by talking, writing and e-mailing about O'Connor's seat 24/7, historian and author Ellen Chesler opened the discussion by saying: "It is not 'alarmist' to be concerned about compromises to foundational doctrines for women and for all Americans. It's realistic."
(You can watch the discussion online on C-SPAN. Scroll down the "Recent Programs" list and look for "Nat'l Press Club Forum on the Supreme Court Vacancy.")
The panelists included, among others, Frank Susman, the reproductive rights attorney who argued Webster v. Reproductive Health Services in front of the Supreme Court when abortion rights were threatened in 1989; Ellie Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation; and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America. Each panelist approached the empty Supreme Court issue from a different angle, but the overall message of the session was very integrated and direct: The new justice will affect much more than abortion rights. There is a great deal at stake. The public must be involved if there is any hope of protecting fundamental freedoms.
Susman laid out the basics: The major Supreme Court decisions over the past 45 years that build up the precedent for privacy regarding decisions about one's person are Griswold vs. Connecticut (married couples can use birth control); Roe vs. Wade (abortion is legal); Lawrence vs. Texas (consensual homosexual relations in the privacy of one's home are legal); and the recent court refusal to order Terri Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted. "These are not just issues of abortion or homosexual relationships or the right to die. It's a matter of control over 'other'—especially control over women," Susman said.
Other panelists then enumerated what could be at stake, besides abortion rights, if another Scalia or Thomas takes the bench: There's contraception, first. Limits to the Family and Medical Leave Act. Limits to affirmative action and equal protection under the law. (More about this in Ms. Magazines's 5 Rights Women Could Lose). Jocelyn Frye of the National Partnership for Women and Families argued that senators must ask every nominee if he or she has ever ruled against family and medical leave, against equal protection, against reproductive rights. And most importantly, nominees must be questioned as to whether they see the Constitution as an evolving document. It's the strict constructionists who are most dangerous, she said. And without asking, we the people won't know who we're ending up with. "Stealth" candidates—Smeal's favorite phrase of the day—can't do as much damage if the public and their senators ask direct questions.
Yes, abortion rights are the most visible in this battle. But most Americans don't have extrmeme positions about abortion. In the caucophony of nomination madness, those middle voices could be drowned out—and all the rights besides abortion that are at stake could get swept away.
Help us spread the word about these important stories...
Email to a friend
Views expressed on this page are those of the authors and not necessarily those of Campaign for America's Future or Institute for America's Future