Playing the Racist Card

Ever since the election of President Bush, Republicans and their allies on the Right have frequently dealt with opposition to his controversial judicial nominations by ignoring the arguments raised by those with legitimate concerns about a nominee’s record in favor of knocking down strawmen of their own creation.  

For instance, when People For the American Way and others voiced opposition to the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, right-wing groups like The Committee for Justice responded by claiming that such opposition was rooted in the fact that Estrada was Latino and claiming that it was an affront to Hispanic-Americans, ignoring the fact that the opposition was actually due to Estrada’s own refusal to reveal anything about his own jurisprudential views and the administration’s refusal to make his full legal record available to the Senate to review.  

Then, when progressive groups opposed the nominations of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, the Right claimed that criticism of the nominees was both sexist and, in the case of Rogers Brown, racist – again, preferring to disregard the substantive concerns about their respective legal records.  

The Right did the exact same thing when it came to the nomination of William Pryor, ignoring serious concerns about his record that displayed a blatant hostility to reproductive choice [among other things, he called Roe vs. Wade the “worst abomination of constitutional law in our history”] and accusing those who opposed his nomination of being anti-Catholic – a tactic they trotted out again when John Roberts was nominated to the Supreme Court.   

In situations where the Right couldn’t accuse a nominee’s opponents of being specifically anti-Latino, anti-Catholic, anti-woman, or straight out racist, they attempted to conflate criticism of a nominee’s legal record with false accusations that the nominee was being accused of being racist – a tactic they deployed during the fight over the nomination of Charles Pickering.  As we explained [PDF] back in 2002:

Some Pickering supporters are arguing in effect that it is impossible to criticize Judge Pickering’s public record on the principles that govern civil rights law without accusing him of being a racist.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that with a battle brewing over the nomination of Leslie Southwick to a seat on the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – not incidentally, the very same seat for which Charles Pickering and Michael Wallace were nominated, both of whom faced significant opposition due to their disturbing records on civil rights – the Right has reverted to form and begun using both of these tactics: claiming either that opponents of Southwick’s confirmation are racist or are accusing him of being a racist.   

For example, the Wall Street Journal came to Southwick’s defense, claiming that opposition to the nomination is “reverse racism by association against any white nominee from Mississippi.”  

Others have taken the opposite route, as displayed by Ed Whelan of the Ethics and Public Policy Center who reported that a supporter of Southwick’s confirmation wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee in which he stated “there is not a hint of racism in Judge Southwick’s being.”  Likewise, the right-wing blog “Confirm Them” insinuated that opponents of Southwick’s confirmation are suggesting that he would “restore segregation.”

For its part, the Committee for Justice has been far less circumspect:  

[The delay on Southwick’s nomination is] disturbing because it indicates that at least a couple of Democratic committee members are pandering to the ultra-liberal groups who reflexively label any white male judicial nominee from the South as racist.

Of course, none of the groups opposing Southwick’s nomination has accused him of being racist or wanting to restore segregation.  Rather, what they have done is raised legitimate concerns about his judicial and legal philosophy concerning issues of individual rights, and, in particular, his insensitivity about the use of the most abhorrent of racial epithets in the workplace.

In 1998, Southwick joined a ruling in an employment case that upheld the reinstatement, without any punishment whatsoever, of a white state employee who was fired for calling an African American co-worker a “good ole nigger.” The court’s decision effectively ratified a hearing officer’s opinion that the slur was only “somewhat derogatory” and “was in effect calling the individual a ‘teacher’s pet.’” The Mississippi Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision.

Continuing what has been a clear pattern since the beginning of Bush’s presidency, Republicans and their right-wing allies have apparently once again decided that it is easier to defend Southwick against fictitious criticisms than deal with the legitimate substantive concerns about his legal record and views.