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Senate confirms church member after two-year fight

In a report on the U.S. Senate fight over President Bush’s nomination of California judge Janice Rogers Brown to the nation’s second-highest court, CNN showed video of the church that Brown has attended since 1978.
“Justice Rogers Brown is a regular here at the Church of Christ in Rancho Cordova near Sacramento,” chief national correspondent John King reported. “Friends say her deep Christian faith is a critical part of both her personal and professional life, though some say that faith plays too much of a role in her judicial philosophy.”
In a separate story, the New York Times said of Brown, “She has often said that she has been guided by her deep Christian faith, and she has often argued that judges should look to higher authorities than precedent or manmade laws in making decisions.”
For better or worse, Brown’s faith played a key role in the bitter, two-year fight in which Democratic critics attacked her as a conservative activist with “extreme views,” as Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy put it. She finally won Senate confirmation June 8 to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The 56-43 vote to confirm Brown — with all but one Democrat opposing her — came after seven Democrats and seven Republicans signed a pact in May pledging not to filibuster judicial nominees except in extraordinary circumstances.

Previously, Democrats had blocked a vote on Brown’s confirmation, criticizing her as a jurist who supported limits on abortion rights and corporate liability and opposed affirmative action, The Associated Press reported.

Brown’s supporters welcomed the long-awaited vote, seeing it as a potential first step toward the U.S. Supreme Court. The daughter of Alabama sharecroppers would be the first black female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

W.L. Fletcher, who serves with Brown on the Pepperdine University Board of Regents, said he greeted her confirmation with “great pride” and “enduring appreciation that she put up with all this process.”

“I mean, she’s been maligned and harangued, and it’s a shame what she’s gone through,” Fletcher said, describing her as a magnificent addition to the court. “I think she brings integrity and she brings appreciation for the Constitution, and she brings a great appreciation for the great things our country was founded on: our religious rights, property rights, fairness.”


Four days before the Senate vote, Brown — who teaches ladies Bible classes at the Cordova church — showed up for the congregation’s “Work Day.”

“She and her husband were down here raking grass, hauling around wheelbarrows just like any other member,” said Jim Dixon, a church elder who has known Brown for more than 20 years.

No one would have known that Brown was an influential judge at the center of a national political firestorm, and that’s the way she likes it, Dixon said.

“Most people here, they know her as Janet, their friend, not as who she is,” Dixon said. “She wants it that way and our church has been blessed and able to do that.”

He added: “I suspect that there are a number of people who attend our church … who were not aware she was a state Supreme Court justice. She’s just a very quiet person, just involved in the ordinary affairs of the church, just like everybody else.”

The 600-member church purposely has refrained from taking a political stand from the pulpit, or making a public announcement about Brown’s nomination fight, Dixon said.

As Ginger Rutland, a left-leaning columnist for the Sacramento Bee, put it after visiting the church, “The congregation is integrated and friendly. Church members know Brown and her husband, jazz musician Dewey Parker, and like them. The church itself is conservative, allowing no instrumental music in its services, no robes, no bishops of hierarchy of any kind. The religious right may have taken up Brown’s cause in Congress, but the sermon at Cordova that day contained no political content.”

Raymon Huston, a political scientist at Oklahoma Christian University, Oklahoma City, said Democrats fear that Brown will use her position to help overturn precedents favorable to their agenda.

And, he suggested, they’re probably right.

“Personally, I think she will do in the judiciary against the liberals the same thing that the liberal judges have been doing against the Republicans,” Huston said. “She’s going to be a very activist judge in that she will create law if given the chance.”


Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the University Avenue church, Austin, said Brown did not deserve “the shabby treatment that she got in the Senate” or “the mischaracterization of her judicial record or her as a person.”

“I remember several times telling her that this debate was really not about her, and by that I meant that the politics surrounding the judicial confirmation are most often directed at the president and his administration,” Cornyn, a Republican, said in an interview with the Chronicle.

Cornyn, a former Texas attorney general and state Supreme Court justice, has been mentioned himself as a possible nominee to the nation’s high court.

He said he’s certain Brown’s faith sustained her during the grueling nomination process, “because it takes a strong person to deal with that kind of public criticism and even ridicule, and be willing to stay the course.”

Cornyn cautioned, however, that no one should presume to know how a judge — even one who personally opposes abortion — might rule in a specific case.

“While I have never talked to her about that, I would suspect that she would regard her role as interpreting the statutes by the legislature and applying the precedents … rather than ruling according to a personal agenda,” he said.

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