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The GOP Judicial Theater of the Absurd is on the road, this time with a biblical theme, starring Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla R. Owen, Supreme Court Justices in their home states of California and Texas, respectively. The two were among ten Republican nominees given the hook in George Bush’s first term, through threats of Democratic filibusters. Now armed with an invisible mandate, Republicans vow to exercise their “nuclear option” by changing the 200-year-old rules of the Senate to end filibusters of judicial nominees if Brown and Owen are not allowed seats on the federal appellate bench – a heartbeat away from the U.S. Supreme Court. Democrats say that if Republicans pull the nuclear trigger, they will respond by shutting down the Senate.

Commentators have compared the standoff to the brinkmanship of the Cold War, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union faced Mutually Assured Destruction, or MAD.

“Mad” is exactly the right word to describe Janice Rogers Brown – in every sense of the term. She is a rightwing nut case, the end product of the litmus test that Republicans give to potential Black high bench nominees: they must be even crazier than their white GOP counterparts.

Brown is a disciple of the Federalist Society, far-right lawyers who hate almost everything that has occurred since ratification of the Constitution, with the exception of the establishment of corporations as virtual legal persons. "Corporations are never wrong," in Janice Brown’s judicial assessment, NAACP Washington Bureau director Hilary Shelton told BlackAmericaWeb. "She is one of the most extreme nominees to be appointed,” said Shelton, confirming our GOP litmus test theory.

Curiously, the BlackAmericaWeb reporter wrote that, “Behind closed doors, some blacks are comparing Brown to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who has offended many black Americans with his conservative judicial decisions.” Behind closed doors? A huge chunk of the Congressional Black Caucus turned out to loudly oppose Janice Brown’s nomination in October, 2003, shortly before her first encounter with the Senate Judiciary Committee. "She's cut from the same cloth as Clarence Thomas," said Washington, DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Rep. Diane Watson (CA) went further, declaring Brown “has such an atrocious civil rights record she makes Clarence Thomas look like Thurgood Marshall.” Los Angeles Rep. Maxine Waters, who championed affirmative action in her state, bitterly recalled, “All the work that I did…was undermined by that judge.”

A study by People for the American Way, which is allied with the NAACP and the entire pantheon of civil rights and labor organizations in opposing Janice Brown, concluded that Brown’s record shows her to be “to the Right of Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia.”

As an appellate judge, Janice Brown would be “the baddest in the whole darn town” of Washington, DC. And relatively young, too. At 56, she could wreak havoc deep into the middle of the century. But Brown is looking backwards, to the decade before she was born, when the legal structures were put in place that allowed Franklin Roosevelt to create the New Deal. All that’s got to go, says the Federalist Society’s Janice Brown, to reverse “the triumph of our own socialist revolution” in 1937. Social Security, labor protections, the very concept of federal intervention in the economy in ways that might mitigate the rule of capital – it’s all “socialism” to Brown.

Like we said, she’s mad, any way you cut it. 

Racists for God and Janice Brown

RepubliChristians thrust forward Brown’s face like a crucifix to ward off Democrats, on their televised "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith" show, April 24. Defaming the civil rights movement with constant linkages to their own cause, the producers posed as persecuted victims of ungodly forces. Impresario Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council, once paid Louisiana Klansman-politician David Duke $82,000 for his mailing list – doubtless full of many thousands of similarly persecuted souls.

Over the past two years, the GOP has elevated Brown’s daughter-of-an-Alabama-sharecropper background to iconic status, like Abraham Lincoln as rail-splitter, and similar to their beatification of Condoleezza Rice as a 1960s Birmingham bombing survivor. But both will be judged by the sins of their adulthood, rather than the circumstances of their childhood.

While televangelists deployed Brown’s picture as a backdrop to soak the Sabbath in rightwing theopolitics, the judge herself was performing live at a country club in wealthy Stamford, Connecticut. Her theme: the persecuted must rise up against “atheistic humanism,” which has “handed human destiny over to the great god, autonomy, and this is quite a different idea of freedom. Freedom then becomes willfulness." The ruling Iranian mullahs could not have said it better, in their capacity as ultimate societal judges.

Judge Brown is a jihadist: “There seems to have been no time since the Civil War that this country was so bitterly divided. It's not a shooting war, but it is a war… These are perilous times for people of faith, not in the sense that we are going to lose our lives, but in the sense that it will cost you something if you are a person of faith who stands up for what you believe in and say those things out loud.”

If there were laws against nominees to the federal bench campaigning for the position, in blatant synchrony with a particular political party, then her Sunday poli-sermon would have cost Janice Brown something. But these are the times of Bush, when “corporations are never wrong” – the RepubliChristian version of infallibility.

Martyr for her masters

Janice Brown also played the persecuted victim to a tee on October 22, 2003, her debut performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The theme then was race rather than religion, but it was a passion play, nonetheless. Chairman Orrin Hatch, of Utah, cast The Black Commentator in the role of principal persecutor of Janice Brown.

As committee members entered the hearing room, they were confronted with easel-mounted blowups and television monitor displays of a cartoon BC had commissioned from artist Khalil Bendib nearly two months before. The cartoon featured two depictions of Clarence Thomas, one standing with Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, applauding, the other wearing earrings and a fright wig, being greeted by George Bush. The fright wigged Clarence Thomas was labeled “Janice Brown.” 

We placed the cartoon – prominently featuring The Black Commentator mark of authorship – on the September 4, 2003 issue’s front page and in a press piece from People for the American Way (PFAW) and the NAACP, titled, “'Far Right Dream Judge' Janice Rogers Brown Joins Lineup of Extremist Appeals Court Nominees.” PFAW President Ralph G. Neas said Brown “embodies Clarence Thomas's ideological extremism and Antonin Scalia's abrasiveness and right-wing activism.  Giving her a powerful seat on the DC Circuit Court would be a disaster." BC headlined the story, “A Female Clarence Thomas for the DC Court?”

Our logs show that right-wingers descend on BC in hordes whenever their Black favorites are skewered in our pages. Orrin Hatch had found what he thought to be graphic evidence of cruel “liberal” persecution of a Black woman. He would make the BC cartoon the central prop with which to disrupt the deliberative duties of his own committee. (See BC, “Testi-Lying to the Senate and the People,” October 30, 2003.)

 “It’s a vicious cartoon filled with bigotry that maligns not only Justice Brown but others as well: Justice Thomas, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice,” said Hatch, waving the cartoon in the air as live C-span cameras rolled. “It’s the utmost in bigotry… I hope that everyone here considers that cartoon offensive and despicable. I certainly do. It appeared on a web site called [speaking slowly and deliberately] Black…Commentator…dot…com.” 

Thus, Hatch kept the Democrats off their game the whole day, as they offered pro forma consolation to Janice Brown and denounced BC’s “despicable” cartoon. Whenever Democratic questioning got rough, Republicans would pick up their BC cartoon prop, to get back on the persecution track.

Brown, the fiery rightwing lawyer whose critiques of her California Supreme Court colleagues’ opinions are downright vicious, played the martyred victim. As we reported:

“I was not going to bring up that cartoon, but since a lot of people have, there’s something I would like to say.” Janice Rogers Brown wore the face she would present to the cameras throughout the day: hurt, fragile, one harsh word away from tears. Directly in her field of vision stood a poster-sized version of the cartoon that had so wounded her, mounted on an easel, captioned: “Bush nominates Clarence-like conservative to the court.” Not too far away, a TV monitor displayed the BlackCommentator.com cartoon web page. All the props were in order, including the human one: herself. Yet Brown feigned surprise that the cartoon was the primary exhibit of the hearing, or that she might be called upon to comment on the drawing.

Incredibly, she claimed to have only learned of the existence of the cartoon the day before, in a telephone conversation with her assistant, who was “choking back tears” at the “horrible things” that “they’ve done” to Brown.  “I had not seen the cartoon,” she told the Senators and the cameras.

If Brown is to be believed, the lawyer-chairman Orrin Hatch had put his star witness on the stand totally unprepared for the show he was orchestrating. But of course, this is theater; we are expected to suspend disbelief.

The Democrats did hang tough against Brown in 2003, as they did again in Brown’s Judiciary Committee hearings in 2005, thanks to the Congressional Black Caucus’s vocal opposition to Brown. Now Bad, Bad Janice Brown and Priscilla Owen are the trigger mechanisms for the GOP’s threat to impose a long nuclear winter of silence on the minority party.

Mien Hymnal

All fascist movements are particular to the societies in which they emerge. A credible argument can be made that the Jim Crow South was a kind of fascist order: a hyper-violent, one-party state based on racial nationalism, drenched in mythology and religiosity, in which science and rationalism are either rejected or subordinated to the “Manifest Destiny” of the dominant group, and whose organizing mechanism is to unify all white classes against the Black “other” – to the general benefit of the rich.

Whether fascist or not, this is the South that is rising again, threatening to immerse the entire nation in its deadly pageantry, the effect of which is to smother all dissent. Janice Rogers Brown rides a dark float in this macabre procession.

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May 5 2005
Issue 137

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