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Judicial Independence Counts

Justice Brown looks to the law, not to some black 'standard.'

November 02, 2003|William S. Mount

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 is proving to be every bit as mean-spirited, out-of-bounds and personally scalding as the opposition that the usual suspects threw at Justice Clarence Thomas over a decade ago.

Brown is already facing labels like "the far right's dream judge" and "ideologically extreme." It is likely that we will see a filibuster on the confirmation of this highly qualified candidate.

That would be a travesty. The Senate should stick to its constitutional role in the advise-and-consent process and give this courageous jurist the vote.

The nation needs -- and will always need -- judges with principles and the courage to follow them, men like William O. Douglas and, before him, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.; women like Janice Rogers Brown.

Brown grew up in the South, the child of sharecroppers. She came to California with her parents and received an undergraduate degree from California State University. She went on to law school at UCLA. A widowed single parent, she took her son with her to law school classes and worked nights.

In time, she rose to become California Gov. Pete Wilson's chief legal advisor. From there, the governor nominated her to serve on the 3rd District Court of Appeal and later on the California Supreme Court, where I had the honor to be her first chief of staff.

Over the course of 4 1/2 years, I came to know Justice Brown as an indefatigable, hands-on jurist with an extraordinary legal mind. For me, three features of her jurisprudence mark her as distinctly qualified for a seat on the District of Columbia Circuit: her firm commitment to the principle of the separation of governmental powers, a commitment that, to her, places significant constraints on the judiciary; her recognition of the interdependency of the twin imperatives of individual liberty and the stability of the social contract ("freedom and responsibility," she has written, "are joined at the hip"); and, not least, her steady adherence to the binding force of judicial precedent, however the chips may fall.

Her many attributes were not lost on California voters, who in the last round of confirmation elections gave her the highest vote of any Supreme Court justice on the ballot -- 76%. President Bush's nomination of her to the prestigious D.C. Circuit has evoked the unanimous support of her former colleagues at the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

None of her successes has come easily.

In 1996, Gov. Wilson's nomination of Brown to the California Supreme Court sparked outcries from the infamous Judicial Nominations Evaluation Commission, or JNEC, a quasi-public body that evaluates judicial nominees. It called her unqualified to serve on the high court, saying she was too "opinionated." However, her track record impeaches every word pronounced against her by the liberals at JNEC.

Brown is a hands-on workhorse who has consistently written 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 or her majority opinion in the Hi-Voltage Wire Works case, upholding California's constitutional initiative banning governmental race- and sex-based preferences. 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.

As for those who denounce her as a conservative breakaway from liberal African American views, I can only marvel at their belief that she should relinquish her independence and betray her principles in favor of their politically correct groupthink. I know that Brown would reply: "But that is life. Sometimes beauty is fierce; love is tough; and freedom is painful."

William S. Mount is an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation and was California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown's chief of staff from 1996 to 2000.

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