The Congress of Racial Equality, a conservative black organization, has thrown a grenade into the lull that followed the centrist compromise over judicial filibusters.
In ads that ran on CNN and Fox News in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, the group pressed for the confirmation of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown.
The ads attack the “hypocrite caucus” in the Senate, “who say one thing yet do another … self-professed supporters of minorities … have blocked (Brown’s) nomination, won’t even permit her a vote.”
If the message seems late, it is: It comes after a group of seven Democrats and seven Republicans last week headed off a vote on the use of the filibuster for judicial nominees. The Senate quickly confirmed Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen and appeared set to vote next week on Brown and 11th U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor, who was recess-appointed by President Bush in February 2004 but must be confirmed by the Senate for a lifetime post.
But CORE’s national leader, Roy Innis, is not satisfied. To the extent his group can afford it, the Caribbean-born civil rights leader and conservative activist wants to keep the pressure on Senators to eliminate the filibuster — a procedural maneuver he calls racist.
“What a distortion of reality … to talk about the filibuster rule being a protection of minority rights,” Innis said, “when it has been used almost exclusively to oppress minorities.”
He said he will continue to run the ads this week, if his group can scrape together enough funding.
Other established civil rights organizations, such as the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the Black Leadership Forum oppose the nomination of Brown and dismiss CORE as marginal.
“We’re particularly offended to hear the people who today are trying to force onto the court anti-civil rights judges using civil rights language to cloak that effort,” said Stephanie Jones, executive director of the National Urban League Policy Institute.
The heated rhetoric between CORE and other black civil rights organizations epitomizes the frayed nerves among many in the interest group community in the aftermath of a Senate showdown that never was. The possibility also remains that the fight could re-ignite this summer over a Supreme Court nominee.
It is not surprising that Brown, who is black, would become a flashpoint for many of the interests in the debate.
Civil rights groups argue that her record from the bench on civil rights and discrimination issues reflect legal extremism. Conservative groups counter by calling her rulings well within the mainstream and highlighting her up-from-the-bootstraps story as the daughter of an Alabama sharecropper.
Innis and other black conservatives have used her background as a child of the segregated South to highlight the use of the filibuster in the 1960s to block civil rights legislation.
CORE’s ads in support of Brown were motivated by “the obscenity called the filibuster rule that has been used against black people for a century and a half,” Innis said. “Even after America has changed for the better, it is being used again against a black woman.”
CORE, formed in 1942, was a leading player in the civil rights movement in the South, particularly Louisiana, during the 1960s.
Then, in 1968, Innis became national director of the group and, by most accounts, steered the organization to the right. While he ran for mayor of New York City in the early 1990s as a Democrat, Innis now calls himself an Independent who supports Republican policies and President Bush.
These days, CORE rarely enters public policy debates in such a conspicuous way, but the latest flap over President Bush’s appellate court nominees is not the first time the group has become vocal in support of conservative judicial nominees.
Innis testified on behalf of the doomed Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.
And the group found itself positioned opposite the NAACP and the Congressional Back Caucus in 1991 when it vocally supported then-nominee Clarence Thomas in his bid to be confirmed for the Supreme Court.
During Thomas’ confirmation hearings, Innis called the nominee “a great man and a great Supreme Court nominee” who was supported by “the black silent majority.”
Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, called the Brown ad an attempt to replay that strategy.
“It’s just a tattered page from the confirmation playbook of Clarence Thomas,” he said.