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Commentary: The High Court’s South Dakota Ruling Has More at Stake Than a Woman’s Right to Choos

Date: Monday, March 06, 2006
By: Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), Special to

On Feb. 24, 2006, the war on civil rights and personal freedoms intensified with the South Dakota legislature’s passage of a bill that bans abortion for any reason except to save the life of the mother. The bill is so extreme that it would even require a girl raped by a close relative to give birth to the child.

What is really behind such an extreme measure? Right-wing anti-abortion foes want to push Roe v. Wade back in front of the Supreme Court. They hope the court will reverse the landmark decision that legalized a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

If the extremists’ assault on our constitutional rights prevails, they will launch attacks on other safeguards of our fundamental freedoms, including:

Separation of church and state;
Affirmative action, including equal opportunity for admissions to our greatest colleges and universities;
Strong enforcement of our laws against race, gender, age and disability discrimination;
Prohibition on Government spying against innocent Americans.

The recent addition of Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the Supreme Court has clearly shifted the court to the right. It has whetted the appetites of extreme conservatives. The voting records of Alito and Roberts illustrate their disdain for affirmative action, individual rights and constitutional limits on the power of the president.

An analysis of 400 of Judge Alito’s published opinions by law professors at his alma mater (Yale Law School) found that Alito had consistently used technical procedural claims and unreasonable factual assumptions to rule against female, minority, age and disability claimants. Judge Roberts’ record is not much better. As associate counsel to President Reagan, Roberts attempted to ban the use of busing as a tool to desegregate the nation’s public schools. In 1981 and 1982, as a Justice Department official, Roberts actively worked to weaken the Voting Rights Act, the crown jewel of our civil rights laws. This clearly reflected his personal views, not merely detached advocacy for a client.

That is why the ultimate outcome of the battle joined in South Dakota should be important to every African-American in the United States regardless of their opinions on whether women should have the right to choose or not choose to have an abortion. The ramifications of this battle extend far beyond the fight over a woman’s right to choose—important as that is. This is a war over what kind of democracy we will enjoy.

Do you want to live in a country where:

The President is free to ignore laws passed by Congress?
Citizens can be spied on while on American soil, without approval by the judicial branch?
Citizens can be imprisoned indefinitely without being charged with a crime or being convicted under due process?
States are free to pass laws denying African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Latinos an equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice?
Adequate health care is a luxury only the rich can afford?
Victims of race, gender, age or disability discrimination have no legal recourse?
Then you need only sit back and ignore this important battle. Victory in the South Dakota case will give conservatives renewed momentum to challenge all the other freedoms we hold dear.

Freedom is rarely lost overnight. Hard won protections are gradually eroded. Vigilance is the price of freedom. When Benjamin Franklin emerged from the convention of founding fathers who had just drafted the Constitution, he was asked by concerned citizens what kind of government they had been given. “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.” Franklin knew that freedom comes with a price. We must fight against any further erosion of the Bill of Rights, if we want to keep a republic that guarantees our civil liberties and personal freedoms.


Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan) is running for reelection to his 20th term in Congress. His commentaries will appear in the State of Black America on the first Monday of each month through November.

Posted by loni on 03/07 at 07:49 AM in Blogging

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