Remarks of the President at People for the American Way Reception (10/24/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                 October 24, 2000

                         REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT

                      National Education Association
                             Washington, D.C.

8:19 P.M. EDT

     THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you very much, Ralph.  I want to
thank you and your predecessor, Carole Shields, and the other board members
of the People for the American Way.  I want to thank Representative Sheila
Jackson Lee from Houston for joining us tonight.  (Applause.)  Where are
you, Shelia?  Right there.  Thank you.  And I want to thank Mary Frances
Berry.  You know, we go back to the Carter administration together.  We've
been friends for way over 20 years, and now she's the chair of our U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights.  She's done a magnificent job.  (Applause.)
Thank you.

     I smiled when I walked in and put my arm around her.  I said, Mary
Frances, that gray hair looks a lot better on you than it does on me.  And
we concluded that we had both earned every one of ours in the last eight
years, and we're proud to have them.  So thank you, Mary Frances Berry.
(Applause.)  Thank you.
     I want to thank you for hosting this event.  I thank all of you for
participating, because one of the great questions the American people will
answer in this election is the future of the Supreme Court, the future of
the federal courts generally, and what the shape of American life will be
when it comes to the individual rights of American citizens, and
potentially as important, the power of the United States Congress and the
federal government to protect the American people from all manner of
things, in the face of a determined effort by what is already on occasion a
majority in the Supreme Court to limit the ability of the Congress to do

     On a daily basis, federal judges make decisions that affect our
everyday lives.  Of course, they can decide at the Supreme Court level
whether women continue to have the right to choose, or if their fundamental
right to privacy will be eliminated; whether the government can keep a safe
environment for our children; whether we can keep guns out of schools;
whether we can pass a law to protect women from violence; whether we can
ban hate crimes; and whether we can expect the states to cooperate with the
federal government and do their part if the Congress finds the national
interest, or whether we will have a new form of ultra-conservative judicial
activism that rejects the government's right or authority to protect the
rights of our citizens and the interests of our citizens.

     For eight years now, I have worked to ensure that our courts at all
levels are filled with judges who are qualified, fair, reflect our nation's
diversity and uphold and enforce our laws.  Since 1993, I've had the honor
to appoint more women and minorities to the federal bench than any previous
President, almost half of my judicial appointees.  (Applause.)  But I'm
also gratified to know that they have garnered the highest percentages of
top ABA ratings of any group of presidential appointees in nearly 40 years,
which shatters the myth that you can't have diversity and excellence at the
same time.  (Applause.)

     In spite of the fact that study after study after study has shown how
qualified these people are, and I might add, how relatively non-ideological
and mainstream, a number of my appointees, especially in election years,
both in 1996 and this year -- although, in this case, some of these go back
the last three or four years -- have been denied a place on the bench, and
in many cases, even denied a hearing for partisan political reasons -- even
though it's clear that they're qualified.  There are more than 40 pending
judicial nominees currently; more than half of them are women and
minorities.  A study not very long ago showed that the women and minorities
I appointed had to wait a whole lot longer for a hearing than guys that
looked like me, and that they were much more likely to be denied.

     For example, even though the 4th Circuit in our country, in
southeastern United States, has the largest percentage of African Americans
of any Circuit in the United States, no African American has ever served on
it.  And there have been plenty of qualified lawyers in the 4th Circuit who
happen to be African American.  Roger Gregory would be the first African
American.  He's not been given a hearing.

     In the 5th Circuit, which has, next to the 9th Circuit, the largest
number of Hispanics, Enrique Moreno, graduated with great distinction from
Harvard and is a native of El Paso, and the judges in West Texas said he
was one of the three best lawyers in West Texas, has been deemed
unqualified for the 5th Circuit by the Republican senators.  And I might
say, the response from the other Republican officials in Texas has been
deafening silence.

     The longest waiting appellate nominee is Helene White of Michigan, who
has been waiting for three years now.  They include Kathleen McCree-Lewis
-- She'd be the first African American woman to serve on the 6th Circuit.
The people who can't get a vote include Bonnie Campbell, former Attorney
General of Iowa, who led our administration's efforts to pass the Violence
Against Women Act.  (Applause.)

     Time and again I have asked the Senate leadership, just give these
folks a vote.  But they did it once, when they rejected Ronnie White, the
first African American State Supreme Court justice in the history of
Missouri, who was turned down for a federal judgeship, though he was
superbly qualified, on grossly political grounds.  The reaction of the
public in Missouri and throughout the United States was predictable, and
quite honorable, and so the next strategy was, the people don't like it
very much when we vote these folks down, so we'll just let them die in
silence, we'll just never have hearings.

     I've had, as you might imagine, a lot more success in appointing
federal trial judges, but the Republican majority has been quite sensitive
to the appellate courts because they know they make a lot of policy, just
like the Supreme Court.  And when they had the White House the last time,
they appointed a lot of very young people to those appellate courts, in the
hope that by the time they got it the next time, whatever they couldn't
pass through Congress and whatever the American people wouldn't put up
with, they could just do it through the courts, with people who had life

     Now we're just a vote or two away from reversing Roe v. Wade in the
United States Supreme Court, and I think it's inevitable that the next
President will have two appointments to the Supreme Court, could be more.
Beyond that, as I intimated in my opening remarks, there has already been a
majority in this Court for restricting the ability of Congress, even a
bipartisan majority in Congress, to get the states to help implement public
interest legislation that protects people.

     The Supreme Court threw out part of the Brady Bill because it required
the states to help do things.  It struck down part of the Violence Against
Women Act, and other laws -- I'm sure that people who are going to be part
of this forum will talk more about this and I don't need to go through this
whole litany of cases.

     But I can tell you that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas,
occasionally with three others voting with them, have a view that is quite
different than the view that has prevailed in the country for the last 40
years about what Congress should be able to do to advance the cause of
civil rights and the environment and public health.  Now, I have no doubt
this view is honestly held, and I have no personal criticism of them, but
they do have a lifetime appointment and unlimited abilities except only by
the cases that come before them to advance this view.  And if they get one
or two more allies and their view prevails, we'll have a philosophy of what
the role of the national government in our country's life is that will be
coming out of the Supreme Court that will have as its only modern parallel
what prevailed in the 1930s, until Franklin Roosevelt tried to pack the
Court with the help of his majority leader, from my home state, Joe T.
Robinson.  And the public hated it and there was a terrible reaction, but
afterward the Supreme Court began to uphold the New Deal legislation.

     And so we all want to pretend that there's no politics in this, but
there is certainly philosophy in this.  There is philosophy in the
appointments of Supreme Court justices and appellate court justices, and
therefore, the presidency is important, but the Senate races are important
as well, because they have to confirm these folks.

     And I don't doubt for a moment that the main problems that the present
majority in the United States Senate has with my nominees is probably not
primarily race or gender, they just know they're not going to be as
right-wing as they think they ought to be.  And they can't credibly claim
that they would be too liberal -- whatever that is -- but they know that if
they can just keep these folks from getting a hearing, over and over and
over again, and then if they get lucky and have the Senate and the White
House, they'll be able to move the judiciary way to the right and reinforce
and accelerate the pace of decisions restricting not only some individual
rights under the judicially defined constitutional right to privacy, but
also the ability of the national government to protect certain vital

     That's what was inherent in the Brady Bill, the Violence Against Women
Act, and any number of these other cases.  And I said I hope the people
that will come behind me will actually go through in greater detail these
cases, because I think a lot of Americans have a general idea that the
right to choose may be at stake in this election in the appointments of the
Supreme Court, but what I think virtually no Americans outside those who
follow the day-to-day decisions of the Supreme Court understand just how
many of our other rights are at stake by virtue of the possibility of
different Court appointments.

     So I come here just to sort of give you good cheer and say how you're
doing a good thing.  (Laughter.)  And remind you of something -- the
American people have normally gotten it right.  That's why we're all around
here after 224 years.  Sometimes it takes an agonizingly long period of
time, but the story of the United States of America is pretty much an
illustration A of Martin Luther King's eloquent statement that the arc of
history is long, but it bends toward justice.  So I urge you to see your
presence here as benders.  You're the people that are supposed to make sure
the arc keeps bending toward justice.

     Our country is a different place than it was eight years ago.  We're
remarkably more diverse, as well as more prosperous.  We're learning to
live together and work together and accept each other in ways that we never
did before.  You've now got more than two-thirds of the country in heavy
majorities of people in both political parties for a hate crimes bill that
protects gay Americans, as well as racial minorities -- (applause) -- it's
a big deal.  That's a big deal.  You've got a majority in the country, a
majority of people in both parties, for an Employment Non-Discrimination
Act that covers gay Americans as well as people of all races.  (Applause.)
But the anchors of the Republican Party in the Congress are to the right of
that and they see this election as their chance.

     Now, while it's true that nobody can predict with any 100 percent
precision how his or her appointees will vote -- thank goodness, President
Eisenhower didn't really know about Earl Warren and Bill Brennan.
(Laughter.)  We've got a lot better feel for it today than they did 40
years ago, and a lot better idea of what the issues are going to be.

     And I say this with all respect.  We should all assume that the people
running for President and the people running for the Senate and all these
other races, that they actually believe what they say, and therefore, if
they're elected, we should assume that they will act on their beliefs.  As
I have said repeatedly, the American people ought to view this election as
a celebration.  How to keep our economy going; how to extend it to people
in places left behind; how to keep the environment improving and the
schools improving and more people getting health insurance and the welfare
rolls and crime rates going down.  All the indicators are right; the
question is, how are you going to make a truly good society out of this.
And what kind of individual protections do we think to be out there.  And
what kind of group rules should be out there in terms of the absence of
discrimination and the presence of opportunity?

     And because our country is in good shape today, we can have an honest,
open debate.  But it doesn't serve anybody to pretend that these
differences aren't there when they, in fact, are there.  So what I hope
will come out of your gathering here is a clear and sharp understanding of
the honest differences that are out there; of the kinds of decisions that
will be made and the appointments that will be made to all of our federal
courts, beginning with the Supreme Court, but including the courts of
appeals and the district courts.  And then you can do whatever you want
with it with the American people and in your own communities between now
and the election and thereafter.

     But I have to tell you that as someone who has been a law professor,
been an attorney general, related to the federal courts as a governor, and
then appointed people as a President to all levels of the federal
judiciary, it is my honest opinion that the incredibly energetic debate
that is going on now at the Supreme Court level about the role of the
national government and the range of personal privacy related individual
rights will only intensify in the years ahead, and will be swung decisively
one way or the other depending on the outcome of these elections.  And to
pretend otherwise is to be like an ostrich with your head in the sand.

     So we don't have to be hand-wringing and we don't have to over-state
the case, and we don't have to attack our adversaries.  This is America;
we've always had people with different views and different feelings and
different convictions.  But you're here because you have a certain take on
what the parameters of personal liberty have to be in order for America to
have a genuine community across all the lines that divide us.  That's how
come you're here.  That's how come you belong to this organization.  So you
have to understand with great detail and clarity what is at stake, and then
you have to be willing to share it.  Because, as I said, the American
people will make a decision in this election which will shape the Supreme
Court and the other federal courts, and the range of liberty and privacy,
and the range of acceptable national action for years to come.

     I think it is fair to say that with the single exception of a woman's
right to choose, which is fairly high on the radar screen, most people have
no earthly idea that any of these other issues are even at stake in this
election.  And a lot of people still don't really believe a woman's right
to choose is at stake in this election.  But it is.  So those of us who are
old enough to remember what it was like before Roe v. Wade, and those of us
who care about things like the Violence Against Women Act and the Brady law
and the other things that we believe make America a better country, and are
not so burdensome to ask the states to walk along with us hand in hand and
work with us, we have a big job to do in the next two weeks.

     So, again, Ralph, I thank you.  Mary Frances, I thank you for your
leadership and your passion and for always prodding me along.  Whenever
anybody else thinks I've done a great job on a civil rights issue, I get
about a C+ from her.  (Laughter.)  But that's her job.  That's her job.

     Look, this is the last thing I'm going to say.  This is a great
country.  Our diversity is making us greater, richer, and more interesting.
But if you look around the world at all the trouble spots today, you see
people have a whole lot of trouble dealing with folks who have honest
convictions that are different from theirs, especially if they're religious
convictions, or if they are of different racial and ethnic origins which
lead them into different cultural patterns of life.  The great genius of
America in the 21st century has got to be how to take the most diverse
society we've ever had, and the most diverse one in the world -- although,
interestingly enough, India is a pretty close competitor -- and how to
celebrate all this diversity and, at the same time, affirm our common
humanity.  Doing that in the context of all these cases that keep coming up
to the Supreme Court requires a great deal of wisdom and understanding
about what the real principles of our Constitution require and how the real
world works, and an imagination about how it has to work in the 21st

     So you're here discussing something profoundly important.  I just
don't want you -- you don't have to wring your hands about it, but you do
have to get your telephone ringing when you go home.  Thank you and God
bless you.  (Applause.)

                        END       8:50 P.M. EDT

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