- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Senate Democrats and their supporters yesterday charged California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, a black woman whom President Bush has nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, with insensitivity to racism and indifference to workers.

“You were the lone dissenter in a great many cases involving the rights of discrimination victims, consumers and workers,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, in a hearing yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In case after case, you come down on the side of denying rights and remedies to the downtrodden and disadvantaged,” he said.

Republicans raised a spirited defense of Justice Brown, arguing she is a mainstream jurist who has traveled an extraordinary distance from segregated Greenville, Ala., where she was born 54 years ago to poor sharecropper parents with little formal education.

“She is a conservative African-American woman, and for some, that alone disqualifies her nomination to the D.C. Circuit,” said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and the panel’s chairman.

Blown up and prominently displayed during yesterday’s hearing was a derisive cartoon from the Black Commentator, an online newsletter aimed at black audiences.

The cartoon, accompanying a statement by the liberal activist group People for the American Way, depicts Justice Brown with an enormous Afro hairdo and wearing the apron of a house servant. It likens her to black Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas — reviled by some for his conservative views — and also features Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who are both black.

The cartoon was circulated widely around Capitol Hill this week as evidence of how nasty the nominating process has become.

Justice Brown said she didn’t know of it until yesterday when an aide called in tears, prompting her to address it during yesterday’s hearing.

“I have dealt with hatred and bigotry in my life,” she said in a slow and measured voice. “I can’t tell you how distressing I find it to see this cartoon, which is intended to be so demeaning to a group of black people, and to know it was circulated by other black people.”

Justice Brown then brightened and told senators she was honored to be featured in a cartoon with luminaries such as Mr. Powell and Miss Rice.

“So,” she said with finality, “I am going to look at this as an unwitting compliment and not focus on the vicious motivation for it.”

Justice Brown also came under criticism from Democrats, including the Congressional Black Caucus, for her written opinion dealing with Proposition 209, a California ballot referendum that severely limited preferential treatment of minorities in awarding government contracts.

The all-Democrat group issued a release stating, in reference to her written opinion, that Justice Brown had “effectively ended meaningful affirmative-action programs in California.”

Republicans pointed to the same opinion as evidence of her mainstream views, since Justice Brown was writing the opinion for a unanimous court in support of a proposition directly approved by California voters.

They also pointed out that Justice Brown won re-election to the California Supreme Court in 1998 with 76 percent of the vote, the highest of any justice in that election.

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