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Civil Rights Leaders Express Concern for Court Appointment

If John Roberts fits the conservative mold, it could pose significant difficulties for civil rights advocates and organizations like the Center.

While many political pundits are declaring that Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts' is not the right-wing candidate some expected President George Bush to select, a number of leaders are cautioning against accepting Roberts' nomination without a challenge.

Bush announced Tuesday that he had selected Roberts, currently a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"President Bush would not have chosen this man unless he understood he would follow this radical judicial philosophy that's shared only by the court's two most militant members, [Justice Antonin] Scalia and [Justice Clarence] Thomas," said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP and member of the Center's board of directors.

In a speech given at the annual NAACP convention on July 10, Bond underscored the importance of the choice of man or woman to fill Justice O'Connor's shoes.

"There can be no issue of greater or more immediate importance than the upcoming confirmation battle, and we intend to be in the thick of the fight," said Bond. "One vote, for example, upheld affirmative action in higher education — and that vote belonged to Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. It is imperative that her replacement exhibit similar independence of mind and character."

With only two years as a federal appeals court judge, Roberts has a short record with which to measure what kind of justice he might be. It is clear however, that Bush wanted to select someone in the conservative mold of Scalia and Thomas.

If Roberts does fit that mold, said Center founder and chief trial counsel Morris Dees, it could pose significant difficulties for civil rights advocates and organizations like the Center.

"We've depended on the United States Supreme Court to give a progressive and liberal interpretation on human rights," said Dees. "Who knows what would happen if Rehnquist and Scalia and Roberts and Thomas are on the court when they decide whether a person should have a right to legal counsel?"

Dees said the nation and the Civil Rights Movement benefited enormously from a liberal and progressive court — something that could be in jeopardy with the Roberts nomination.

"We have to think — what would it be like as a nation with our civil rights if we had people on the court like Scalia and Thomas for the last 40 years?" Dees said.