Press

Rehnquist death: Task Force urges president and Senate to defend the fairness and independence of the federal judiciary

Date: 
September 05, 2005

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Rehnquist death: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force urges president and Senate to defend the fairness and independence of the federal judiciary

National Gay and Lesbian Task Force calls Rehnquist record on civil rights and privacy rights — including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights — 'dismal'

'Chief Justice Rehnquist's record has been consistent — consistently reactionary and consistently hostile to individual freedoms and equal justice, across the board. — Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman

WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 — The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force offers condolences to the family of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who died Sept. 3. The chief justice was widely held to be an effective administrator, and his loyalty to the court was evident as he worked through debilitating illness. Rehnquist's death and the retirement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor leave two vacancies on the Supreme Court. Confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts, whose nomination the Task Force opposes, are slated to begin this week. This latest vacancy on the nation's high court underscores the critical importance of the Senate's role in defending and protecting the fairness and independence of the federal judiciary.

Statement by Matt Foreman, Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

"Chief Justice Rehnquist's record has been consistent — consistently reactionary and consistently hostile to individual freedoms and equal justice, across the board. His record on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has been beyond regrettable; it has been dismal.

"In Bowers v. Hardwick, he voted to uphold Georgia's sodomy law criminalizing private, consensual sexual conduct. Seventeen years later, in Lawrence v. Texas, despite a changed social and legal landscape concerning LGBT people and our civil and privacy rights — indeed, in the same year that the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the constitution of that state — he dissented from the court's decision to overturn Bowers and strike down a Texas statute criminalizing private, consensual sex between same-sex partners. Rehnquist voted with the dissent, which said it was an 'impossibility' to distinguish homosexuality from other 'moral offenses,' such as 'bestiality.'

"Justice Rehnquist joined with Justice Scalia's dissent in the Romer v. Evans decision, in which the high court ruled that a Colorado amendment blocking gay and lesbian Coloradoans from civil rights protections was an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause. The opening line of that dissent — '[t]he Court has mistaken a Kulturkampf for a fit of spite - reflected a deep and dismissive hostility toward gay and lesbian people and a complete inability to see the Colorado provision for what it was: an apartheid-like diminution of rights.

"In every case involving a woman's right to choose, Rehnquist voted to erode that right. Likewise, he was on the wrong side of virtually every key ruling on affirmative action, capital punishment and church/state separation.

"And no reflection, however brief, of his tenure on the court can be complete without mention of his vote and concurring opinion in Bush v. Gore. There, after a career on the court of advancing states' interests, including their rights to manage their electoral processes, he led the court in stopping the Florida Supreme Court's oversight of that state's electoral processes in the 2000 presidential election and denied the voting rights of thousands.

"We urge the president, as he proceeds with selecting a nominee to fill this second vacancy, to demonstrate he is not captive to his extremist supporters. The only way he can do so is by nominating a person to the Supreme Court whose credentials, lack of ideological agenda and commitment to the Constitution's core concepts of individual liberty and equal rights are beyond question.

"Judge John Roberts is no such nominee; he is not suitable for any seat on the court, particularly chief justice, because he has denigrated the nature and scope of the constitutional rights to privacy, equal protection and due process, as well as the federal government's role in confronting injustice.

"The Senate must defend the fairness and independence of the federal courts in the Roberts confirmation hearings. In doing so, it must make clear to the president that those values and a commitment to equal justice under the Constitution will be essential in the forthcoming nomination."

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.