The National Organization for Women announced yesterday that it would fight the confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, while the National Education Association passed a resolution that stopped just shy of opposing his confirmation.
"His nomination is an insult to the life and legacy of Thurgood Marshall and everything that he stood for," declared Patricia Ireland, NOW's national vice president, in New York City. "He is an extremist. He is out of step with the majority of Americans, and he is out of step with the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution."
Ireland, Gloria Steinem and others celebrating NOW's 25th anniversary said Thomas' views would imperil women's rights, civil rights and the right to privacy.
"We're going to Bork him," said Flo Kennedy, a lawyer. "We need to kill him politically." Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1987 by President Reagan but was rejected by the Senate 58-42. His critics attacked his narrow reading of constitutional protections.
The conservative Thomas was nominated by President Bush to replace Marshall, a liberal and civil-rights trailblazer whose retirement will solidify the high court's conservative bent.
"We will not sit quietly by while the Democratic Senate acquiesces to this court-packing strategy," Ireland told reporters. If the court overturns Roe vs. Wade, the ruling that legalized abortion, "both Democrats and Republicans will have to face women at
the polls," she added.
Although Thomas has never ruled in an abortion case, abortion-rights activists have pointed with alarm to a 1987 speech in which he praised an essay by conservative scholar Lewis Lehrman. In the essay, Lehrman said Roe vs. Wade was unconstitutional and had resulted in a "holocaust."
In Miami Beach, Fla., delegates at the National Education Association's annual convention passed a resolution that expressed the teachers union's "grave concern" over Thomas' conservative positions on affirmative action, "reproductive freedom," and the minimum wage.
The measure, passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote by the 8,100 teacher-delegates, instructed their union to monitor the confirmation process. It also said the union would press for a new candidate if Thomas' positions were deemed unacceptable.
"We're telling the NEA that if things don't change regarding what Thomas stands for, that it should work against his nomination," said Phil Rumore, president of the Buffalo (N.Y.) Teachers Federation, who wrote the resolution.