WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Anthony M. Kennedy today defended his commitment to equality for women, minorities and union members as he faced tougher questioning in his second day of confirmation hearings.
A day after receiving almost kid-glove treatment from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kennedy returned to find himself sparring with liberal Democrat Howard M. Metzenbaum, moderate Republican Arlen Specter and conservative GOP member Gordon J. Humphrey.
They questioned him sharply about his opinions that turned down Mexican-Americans' claims of voting rights discrimination, overturned a Washington state plan to give comparable pay to female government workers, went against unions in labor disputes and upheld the Navy's right to discharge homosexuals.
Following a pattern he established on Monday, Kennedy explained his specific rulings but also made broad statements of his commitment to equality and fairness as a judge on the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
On civil rights, he told Specter (R-Pa.) that the historic 1954 decision that struck down separate-but-equal schools "was right when decided and I think it would have been right if decided 80 years before. Plessy v. Ferguson (the 1898 ruling permitting separate-but-equal facilities for blacks) was wrong the day it was decided."
'Entitle to Full Protection'
And union members, he said, are "entitled to full protection. As a fundamental matter, workers are protected in their rights to organize and rights to collective bargaining."
In the comparable-pay case, Kennedy wrote the opinion that overturned the Washington state government's plan to provide nearly $1 billion to 15,500 employees, 70% of whom were women.
Asked about the case by Metzenbaum, Kennedy said he well understood that wage barriers exist for working women because his wife, Mary, is a schoolteacher. But in explaining the ruling, Kennedy said, "We did not see that Congress mandated that result (the payments to lower-paid workers)."
Metzenbaum criticized Kennedy for his ruling in Aranda v. Van Sickle, in which Latino residents of San Fernando contended that the at-large city/county elections there discriminated against them.
Kennedy said Aranda was "a very troubling case" but he blamed the lawyers for the Mexican-Americans, who, he said, "only wanted the remedy of a district election scheme rather than an at-large scheme. That is one of the most sweeping remedies. That remedy far exceeded the specific wrongs that had been alleged."
Humphrey (R-N.H.) criticized Kennedy for citing academic experts who were sympathetic to privacy rights for homosexuals in a court opinion that upheld the Navy's right to discharge a homosexual.