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Guest Contributor
William S. Mount

Janice Brown Deserves Fairness
...Not A Filibuster
[William S. Mount] 11/01/03

To judge from all indications, organized opposition to the White House nomination of Justice Janice Rogers Brown of the California Supreme Court to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia circuit will prove to be every bit as mean-spirited, out-of-bounds and personally scalding as the opposition the usual suspects threw at Justice Clarence Thomas during his Senate confirmation hearings over a decade ago. Ralph Neas, head of People for the American Way (PFAW) and a proven ace at the art of character assassination, put the matter this way: Justice Brown, he said, "is the far right's dream judge. She embodies Clarence Thomas' ideological extremism and Antonin Scalia's abrasiveness and right-wing activism." It's a stinging--even expert--sound bite.

There is, of course, another side to this story. And as a lawyer who had the great honor to serve as her first chief of staff following her confirmation as a Justice of the California Supreme Court, I can tell you nothing but good about the quality of her work and her character. It is nothing like the portrait Mr. Neas gives us. Brown is committed to individual liberty. She respects judicial modesty and is allied to a deference to the legislative branch. Her view is that prudence is the first principle of sound government.

Janice Brown grew up in the segregated South, the child of sharecroppers. Coming to California with her parents, she received an undergraduate degree from Cal. State and went on to law school at UCLA. A widowed single parent, she took her son with her to law school classes and worked nights. She later remarried and continued in government service in Sacramento, in time rising to become California Governor Pete Wilson's chief legal adviser. From there, the Governor nominated her to serve on the Third District Court of Appeal. With its proximity to the seat of state government, this court is not unlike the federal District of Columbia Court of Appeals to which the President has named her.

Gov. Wilson's 1996 nomination of Janice Rogers Brown to a seat on the California Supreme Court sparked outcries from the infamous JENY commission, a quasi-public body that evaluates judicial nominees. They called her "unqualified" to serve on the high court, saying she was too "opinionated." However, her sterling track record impeaches every word pronounced on her by the liberals at JENY. Janice Brown is a hands-on workhorse, who has consistently authored more opinions each year than any other member of the California Supreme Court. And they are not just any opinions. She has written for the majority in some of the court's more controversial cases-- for example, approving injunctions against lawless gangs congregating in residential neighborhoods. Her dissenting opinions are equally compelling. She parted company with the majority's decision to strike down California's parental notification requirement for underage girls seeking abortions. When I worked for Brown, I often thought that her place in history will be in the long and distinguished line of American dissenters along with Justices like Oliver Wendell Holmes.

During the last round of confirmation elections, Janice Brown received an approval rating of 76% of the electorate, the highest of any Supreme Court Justice on the ballot. President Bush's nomination of her to the prestigious District of Columbia Circuit has evoked the unanimous support of her former colleagues at the Third District Court of Appeal.

Janice Brown is caught just now in the mills of the Gods of the United States Senate. Or, more accurately, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose members are expected to vote on her nomination by next Thursday, November 6. The outrage practiced by the Democratic Senate minority--repeatedly filibustering the President's nominations of conservative jurists, in some cases till the nominee asked that his name be withdrawn--is waiting in the wings in Janice Brown's case, too.

Filibustering this highly qualified candidate would be a travesty. We hope that Janice Brown is given the up-or-down vote that the Senate's advise-and-consent role demands, and that this brilliant jurist deserves.

William S. Mount is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation. He served as California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown's first chief of staff from 1996 - 2000.




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