By Ruth Conniff on July 20, 2005
Time for Tough Questions
By Ruth Conniff

July 20, 2005

President Bush’s selection of Judge John G. Roberts to be his Supreme Court nominee solves a number of political problems for the President quite neatly. First, by making a quick selection, the President can move the news off the increasingly embarrassing Karl Rove scandal. Second, by choosing someone with a very short paper trail of written legal opinions, the President avoids the mess that could result when opponents unearth his nominee’s record. If Roberts wants to dodge questions about his judicial philosophy in his confirmation hearings, there won’t be much for Senate Judiciary Committee staff or the press to dig up. Finally, Roberts satisfies Bush’s far-right base, with his staunch conservatism and particularly his statement that Roe v. Wade was a wrong decision and ought to be overturned. At the same time, Roberts demonstrates a level of professional accomplishment and respect from his peers that makes him far less liable to stir up controversy at his confirmation than a more ideologically flamboyant candidate.

It is critical that Senate Democrats step up to their role in the confirmation process and put tough questions to Roberts. Does he still believe that Roe should be overturned, or does he think, as he said in 2003 during his federal appeals court confirmation, that Roe is now “the settled law of the land,” and that he will have no trouble upholding it? Abortion rights are not just a “litmus test” issue imposed by a narrow interest group, as rightwingers insist. The largest majority of Americans in history supports upholding Roe v. Wade, and the right to privacy embodied by that decision. To select a Supreme Court judge who will overturn that case is to go against the mainstream culture of our country and the legal and cultural norms of the last thirty years.

Roberts’s record also raises serious questions about whether he would protect the interests of individual American citizens from overwhelming corporate and government power. His opinion in Hedgepeth v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, upholding the decision that the arrest, search, handcuffing and detention of a twelve-year-old girl for eating a single French fry in a Washington Metro station did not violate her Fourth or Fifth Amendment rights is troubling. So is his opinion in Acree v. Iraq, that Iraqi citizens who had been tortured and falsely imprisoned could not pursue a claim against the Bush Administration-supported Iraqi government. His dissenting opinion in Rancho Viejo v. Norton appears to show contempt for the environmental and species-protection function of the Fish and Wildlife Service.

These and other issues deserve a thorough probing by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Let the tough questions begin.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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