After gearing up for the mother of all judicial nomination fights, warriors on both the left and the right appear incapable of drawing clean battle lines in the coming showdown over Judge John Roberts.
Nominated by President Bush to the Supreme Court on July 19, Roberts was initially greeted with wild enthusiasm on the right, and tepid disapproval on the left. Both sides have since had to contend with the fact that Roberts has not left a long paper trail of opinions or briefs on the hot button issues of the day. But initially it seemed as if this stealth candidate was going to emerge one day as a loyal member of the far right faction, rather than a turncoat swing vote‚ÄĒor worse, to right wing loyalists, a Republican pick turned liberal justice, like David Souter.
Last Thursday, the LA Times dropped what looked like a bombshell into the tense standoff, reporting that Roberts had willingly taken on some pro bono work on behalf of the pro-gay advocates in Romer v. Evans. Argued in 1995, Romer challenged a Colorado Supreme Court ruling which had struck a statewide amendment outlawing gay rights policies throughout the state. According to the Times, Roberts coached attorney Jean Dubofsky on the ins and outs of arguing before the Supreme Court, and then played the role of Justice Antonin Scalia during a practice run, peppering her with tough questions from the conservative perspective. Gay advocates went on to win a 6-3 victory, with Justice Anthony Kennedy delivering what was then the most powerful gay rights opinion in history.
Logically, the news was the sort that should have thrown the contest into turmoil. According to Walter A. Smith, head of the pro bono department at Hogan & Hartson where Roberts worked at the time, Roberts accepted the assignment willingly.
‚ÄúHe said, ‚ÄėLet‚Äôs do it,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Smith told the Times. ‚ÄúAnd it‚Äôs illustrative of his open-mindedness, his fair-mindedness. He did a brilliant job.‚ÄĚ Dubofsky, in turn, said that Roberts‚Äô advice came in two areas that were ‚Äúabsolutely crucial.‚ÄĚ
‚ÄúHe said you have to be able to count and know where your votes are coming from. And the other was that you absolutely have to be on top of why and where and how the state court ruled in this case.‚ÄĚ
But the bombshell has so far turned out to be a dud.
Gay groups and other progressives generally reacted quickly to the revelation, most with a cautionary note.
‚ÄúHis limited involvement in this important case does not shed any light on his approach to the Constitution,‚ÄĚ said People for the American Way, ‚Äúlet alone provide an understanding of what his confirmation might mean to the rights and liberties of gay Americans.‚ÄĚ
Lambda Legal Defense executive director Kevin Cathcart called the news ‚Äúone more piece that will be added to the puzzle of vetting John Roberts,‚ÄĚ while Joe Solmonese of the Human Rights Campaign said Roberts‚Äô participation in Romer was ‚Äúnoteworthy,‚ÄĚ but ‚Äúadds little to our understanding of how he would vote on the court.‚ÄĚ
On the far right, dead silence prevailed for 24 hours, while radio talk show commentators reportedly had a field day with the story. Subsequently, conservatives closed ranks to defend their nominee, insisting that his role in the gay rights case was limited, and reflected his position as a loyal member of his law firm, ready to help all clients.
The comments echoed a talking points memo issued by Sean Rushton of the right wing Committee for Justice, the advocacy group devoted to putting hardcore conservatives on the courts. In that memo, Rushton called the news about Roberts ‚Äúa red herring meant to divide the Right,‚ÄĚ and warned that this will not be the last attempt ‚Äúto play a phony game of ‚Äėgotcha‚Äô by liberals and some in the media to tarnish and embellish the record of this outstanding nominee.‚ÄĚ
The notion that liberals would attempt to ‚Äútarnish‚ÄĚ Roberts candidacy by revealing what most centrists and liberals alike would perceive as evidence of an open-minded and unbiased character, does not make strategic sense. But it‚Äôs clear that the coalitions on the right are more fragile than the various contingents on the left.
Nobody on the left has given Roberts a round of applause, but nor has the progressive wing issued a collective call for his defeat in the Senate. By contrast, the notorious commentator Ann Coulter has condemned Bush for his selection.
Conservatism is sweeping the nation, we have a fully functioning alternative media, we‚Äôre ticked off and ready to avenge Robert Bork,‚ÄĚ she wrote. ‚Äúand Bush nominates a Rorschach blot.‚ÄĚ
A Man Walked Into A Bar
I was looking for important research notes in a big pile of paper and found this old clipping from the local homeless newspaper, headlined ‚ÄúChris‚Äôs jokes,‚ÄĚ subhead: ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre so stupid they are funny.‚ÄĚ Heard the one about the dyslexic man who walked into a bra? (cue: snare drum.) How about the man who walked into a bar with a slab of asphalt under his arm and asked: ‚ÄúBeer please, and one for the road.‚ÄĚ
Then there‚Äôs the last man on earth, who looks down at the ice melting in his scotch and says: ‚ÄúDrink, I‚Äôd like a bartender.‚ÄĚ
I got that last one from a trashy novel I‚Äôm reading. There‚Äôs something poignant about it, don‚Äôt you agree? Very ‚Äúend times.‚ÄĚ
Last one: A man woke up in a hospital after a serious accident. He shouted ‚ÄúDoc! I can‚Äôt feel my legs!‚ÄĚ The doctor replied: ‚ÄúI know you can‚Äôt. I‚Äôve cut off your arms.‚ÄĚ
As it happens this week, I have a large stockpile of ridiculous items that bear little or no connection to our ongoing struggle for civil rights. Much as I‚Äôd love to share more of them, I think you agree it would be wrong, very wrong, to elevate such nonsense above the task at hand. There are, after all, some important matters to discuss.
For example, Lambda Legal Defense has filed briefs in one of two New York marriage cases headed for separate state appellate courts. That‚Äôs serious business, indeed.
Then, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is having its convention, and will vote on three GLBT proposals, all of which state the denomination‚Äôs official disapproval of all things gay, and then turn around and allow individual churches to do whatever the hell they want without any disciplinary action. ‚ÄúThis is not a perfect document,‚ÄĚ said one Houston-based member of the ELCA council. Um. Guess not. But do we really care?
Remember those two Cherokee women who won a victory before the tribe‚Äôs top court last week? We all cheered when the Judicial Appeals Tribunal ruled that a local lawyer lacked standing to challenge the marriage of Dawn McKinley and Kathy Reynolds. But within days, a bunch of Tribal Council members lodged their own motion to deny the couple the right to file their marriage certificate with the tribal court. So the merry-go-round takes another spin.
Would you like some good news? Spain‚Äôs justice ministry says foreigners can marry Spanish nationals regardless of whether their own country accepts same-sex marriage. That‚Äôs welcome news indeed for all of us who are in love with Spanish people. And Melissa Etheridge told a radio interviewer that she is ‚Äúfully recovered‚ÄĚ from breast cancer.
Honey, Will You Come Hold Me?
Now, from Armand in LA, we learn that men are like blenders. ‚ÄúYou need one, but you‚Äôre not quite sure why.‚ÄĚ Are you laughing? OK, I‚Äôll try again. Men are like parking spots. ‚ÄúAll the good ones are taken, and the rest are handicapped.‚ÄĚ
I have a whole list of those. Armand also sent me an Associated Press item about a Panama City, Florida man who killed his wife with a claw hammer because she wanted to cuddle after having sex, when he wanted to watch sports on TV.
‚ÄúThe defendant struck his wife approximately 70 individual blows after spending a happy interlude with her,‚ÄĚ said Circuit Judge Dedee Costello during his sentencing hearing. ‚ÄúHer desire to cuddle after sex does not justify the extremely violent brutal response of the defendant.‚ÄĚ Hmmm. I suppose I agree with that. Depends on the context though. Are we talking Roland Garros semifinals? Back nine of the Masters on Sunday? The Belmont Stakes? More information is needed. He was sentenced to death, by the way.
You Go, Girls
In Austin this morning, the sky is dark gray and there‚Äôs a warm steady rain hitting the tarmac outside my office, where I just spent ten minutes staring dreamily at the traffic on IH35 and thinking about, well, let me confess what I was thinking about. I was thinking about Celia Kitzinger and Sue Wilkinson, who are suing the government of Great Britain for marriage recognition.
The women married two years ago in British Columbia, and if Britain‚Äôs High Court declines to accept their legal status, they pledge to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights. There, a ruling in their favor could effectively legalize same-sex marriage throughout the European Union.
Just because this piece of information is buried in an absurd collection of random tidbits does not mean that it‚Äôs not a major development in the global fight for marriage equality. It is. The High Court petition will be filed Aug. 12, the Independent reports.
Speaking of Canadian weddings, there‚Äôs a story circulating this week about two straight Canadians, Bill Dalrymple, 56, and Bryan Pinn, 65, who have decided to get married for tax purposes, and also to draw attention to what they perceive as the inherent dangers of Canada‚Äôs equal marriage policies. According to the Toronto Sun, the men, who have no heterosexual marriage prospects at this time, decided on their plan of action on the patio of a Toronto bar ‚Äúamid shock and laughter from their friends.‚ÄĚ
The men ‚Äúwant to shed light on the widespread financial implications of the new legislation and are willing to take it all the way,‚ÄĚ the Sun reported.
Why am I not surprised that these buffoons have no potential girlfriends on the horizon? I hope they enjoy their 15 minutes of fame, and I hope‚ÄĒif they do follow through‚ÄĒthat someday they run into some unforeseen bureaucratic red tape. I don‚Äôt know. I hope Bryan Pinn‚Äôs ne‚Äôer do well nephew stakes a legal claim to Bill Dalrymple‚Äôs family estate in rural Ontario and turns it into a commercial safari business with big tacky signs on the highway. Or maybe Dalrymple will lose his shirt in some fly-by-night timeshare scam and Pinn will be sued for his net worth by defrauded investors. We shall see.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, disappointed activists are considering a citizen‚Äôs initiative to get civil unions enacted in the state. You recall that a civil union bill was twice gutted and killed in the house after passing the state senate. The gang at Basic Rights Oregon is also planning to go after the house seat of Speaker Karen Minnis, who personally derailed the legislation. ‚ÄúIt should come as no great surprise if we decide to target the one person who stood between right and wrong,‚ÄĚ said Basic Rights Oregon executive director Roey Thorpe. Nail her! (So to speak.)
Finally, you should know that a conservative group called Public Advocate of the United States has turned against John Roberts, and will either stay neutral or campaign against his confirmation to the Supreme Court. Eugene Delgaudo told the AP, ‚ÄúI know that others feel the same way. I know they believe as I do. They‚Äôre just not going to act.‚ÄĚ
In fact, I also know that quite a few gay leaders were very pleasantly surprised by the news that Roberts took up the cause of the angels in Romer v. Evans, and helped the pro-gay side prepare for Supreme Court arguments free of charge. They‚Äôre keeping their mouths shut about their true feelings just as most far right conservatives are staying mum about what must be an incredibly disturbing possibility. To wit: John Roberts is not an Antonin Scalia, but more an Anthony Kennedy, who mixes conservatism with a respect for constitutional principles and a broad sense of our common humanity.