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California Supreme Court Justice Janice Brown is the first black woman and one of the most conservative jurists on California's Supreme Court.
updated 10/28/2003 7:01:15 PM ET 2003-10-29T00:01:15

Federal appellate nominee Janice Rogers Brown on Wednesday defended her work as a conservative California jurist and said the personal opinions expressed in some of her speeches would stay separate from her role on the bench.

BROWN, A California Supreme Court justice, has been nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a court that is seen by many as a training ground for the U.S. Supreme Court.

But her conservative positions worry Democrats, who at a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing criticized what they called her “right-wing” statements in speeches and judicial decisions.

“Justice Brown, your record is that of a conservative judicial activist, plain and simple,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. “You frequently dismiss judicial precedence ... when it doesn’t comport with your political views.”

But Brown said she would keep her personal opinions out of her future work. “I absolutely understand the difference in roles in being a speaker and being a judge,” she told the committee.

ROLE OF D.C. COURT

The 12-member D.C. appeals court decides important government cases involving separation of powers, the role of the federal government, the responsibilities of federal officials and the authority of federal agencies. It now has five Republican and four Democratic appointees.

A 54-year-old black woman from the South, Brown supports limits on abortion rights and corporate liability and opposes affirmative action.

She has been quoted as calling affirmative action programs “entitlement based on group representation” and similar to Jim Crow laws. Durbin also quoted her as saying, “Where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies.”

“You have described the year 1937 - the year in which President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation started taking effect - as ’the triumph of our socialist revolution,”’ Durbin said. “Given that the federal government and its role in our lives is your major responsibility if you’re appointed to the D.C. circuit court, I hope you can understand why some people have taken great issue with statements you have made and the philosophy which you bring before this committee.”

BROWN STANDS BY SPEECH

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Brown said she was speaking to an audience of young law students and was trying to make them think. But she stood by the statements. “The speech speaks for itself,” she said.

Republicans attacked Brown’s critics. “Justice Brown is hardly out of the mainstream, a conclusion buttressed by the fact that she wrote more majority opinions than any other justice on the California Supreme Court,” said Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Being black brings her opposition, Hatch said. “She is a conservative African-American woman, and for some that alone disqualifies her nomination to the D.C. circuit,” he said.

Senate Democrats have not said whether they will filibuster Brown.

The Senate has confirmed 165 of President Bush’s U.S. District and appeals courts nominations. Democrats are filibustering three judicial nominees and forced one, Miguel Estrada, to withdraw his nomination.

© 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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