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NARAL Advertisement:
Via How Appealing, I just watched NARAL Pro-Choice America's new advertisement opposing the Roberts nomination. If I'm not mistaken, it seems to be suggesting that John Roberts favors blowing up abortion clinics.

  Over at Bench Memos, Edward Whelan offers some context. You can hear John Roberts arguing the case that forms the basis of the NARAL advertisement from this site, starting at 16:10.
Columbienne:
From the NARAL press release:

“In the four years before John Roberts argued Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic in front of the Supreme Court, anti-choice radicals were responsible for at least 48 bombings and arsons in 24 states, along with 57 acid attacks, more than 4,000 disruptive acts such as bomb threats, harassing calls and hate mail,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “I want to be very clear that we are not suggesting Mr. Roberts condones or supports clinic violence. I’m sure he finds bombings and murder abhorrent. But still his ideological view of the law compelled him to go out of his way to argue on behalf of someone like Michael Bray, who had already been convicted of a string of bombings.” [emphasis added.]
8.8.2005 5:56pm
Medis:
There is an interesting commonality between Ms. Keenan and those who are attacking the ACLU (in other discussions) on the basis of some of the clients the ACLU has represented.
8.8.2005 6:15pm
Michael:
Transcription of what was spoken in the ad:

Narrator: Seven years ago, a bomb destroyed a women’s health clinic in Birmingham, Alabama.

Emily Lyons: “The bomb ripped through my clinic and I almost lost my life. I will never be the same.”

Narrator: Supreme court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber

Emily Lyons: “I am determined to stop this violence, so I am speaking out”

Narrator: Call your senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can’t afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.

---

Important text on the screen:

Birmingham, AL
January 29, 1998
New Woman All Women Health Clinic

Emily Lyons

JAYNE BRAY, ET AL., PETITIONERS V.
ALEXANDRIA WOMEN'S HEALTH CLINIC, ET AL

No. 90-985
1990 U.S. Briefs 985
October Term, 1990
April 11, 1991

(continues to quote the brief, I just included identifying information)

John G. Roberts, Jr.,

"Roberts filed court brief supporting clinic protestors" (sic: correct spelling is protesters)

Call Your Senators
202-224-3121
Oppose John Roberts

PAID FOR BY NARAL PRO-CHOICE AMERICA
8.8.2005 6:26pm
Michael:
Columbienne, if NARAL wants to be so clear on that point, why does the NARrator say "America can’t afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans"?

"I want to be very clear that we are not suggesting Mr. Roberts condones or supports clinic violence"
John Roberts' "ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans"

So he doesn't condone it but he does excuse it? How does that work? NARAL wants to get away with putting one message into text and another--more inflammatory--message into video. That might have worked back when people actually had to put in effort to transcribe TV spots but it's very easy to do with the QuickTime video available on NARAL's own web site.
8.8.2005 6:33pm
Crash:
Keenan says that "I want to be very clear that we are not suggesting Mr. Roberts condones or supports clinic violence."

But the NARAL ad states that Roberts' "ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans."

In what bizarre variation of the English language could the statement that someone excuses an act of violence not, at the very least, suggest that that person condones that act of violence?
8.8.2005 6:36pm
AF:
Orin, you're mistaken. The ad suggests that Roberts "excuses" blowing up abortion clinics, not that he favors it. If someone spills beer on me and says, "oh, excuse me," they're not asking me to condone their spilling beer on them—they're asking me to forgive them.

This kind of ad is par for the course in judicial elections. Usually it's a challenger accusing an incumbent judge of being too easy on a violent criminal. While such ads are certainly open to criticism (though it would be easy to argue that they're more appropriate in the Supreme Court context than elsewhere) they don't accuse their targets of "favoring" violence.
8.8.2005 6:52pm
Ugh (mail):

This kind of ad is par for the course in judicial elections. Usually it's a challenger accusing an incumbent judge of being too easy on a violent criminal. While such ads are certainly open to criticism (though it would be easy to argue that they're more appropriate in the Supreme Court context than elsewhere) they don't accuse their targets of "favoring" violence.


But 90% of the public who sees it will take it as "favoring" violence, and NARAL knows that.
8.8.2005 6:59pm
Tbag (mail) (www):
I'm pro choice and anti-Roberts, but I think that's over the line. NARAL has a tendency to take shrill to new, unfortunate heights. In this instance, I would say they've taken it to the point of mincing words to defend a indefensible innuendo.
8.8.2005 7:17pm
David Maquera (mail) (www):
What's NARAL?
8.8.2005 7:27pm
Bryan DB:
But 90% of the public who sees it will take it as "favoring" violence, and NARAL knows that.

I think this is probably accurate, but it only begs the question. Is it the responsibility of any advertiser (or just some of them) to make sure that absolutely everyone correctly comprehends the message? Perhaps we might rightly ask that 90% of the public to exercise their brains once in a while instead of being led like sheep by the advertiser-of-the-moment.

And, Orin, there's a difference between excusing and favoring.
8.8.2005 7:30pm
Crash:
Hey NARAL Defenders,

You lose.


Main Entry: excuse
Part of Speech: verb
Definition: forgive
Synonyms: absolve, acquit, alibi, apologize for, appease, bear with, clear, condone, cover, defend, discharge, dispense from, exculpate, exempt, exempt from, exonerate, explain, extenuate, forgive, free, give absolution, grant amnesty, indulge, justify, let go, let off, liberate, mitigate, overlook, pardon, pass over, plead ignorance, pretext, purge, rationalize, release, relieve, remit, reprieve, shrive, shrug off, spare, tolerate, vindicate, whitewash, wink at
Antonyms: accuse, blame, chide, discipline, punish, reprimand
Source: Roget's New Millennium™ Thesaurus, First Edition (v 1.1.1)
Copyright © 2005 by Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. All rights reserved.



Emphasis added.
8.8.2005 7:34pm
Sandy007:
Reply to Bryan DB:

And, Orin, there's a difference between excusing and favoring.

Uh huh.

Is there also a difference between "supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber" (as the ad says) and "favor[ing] blowing up abortion clinics" (as Orin says)?

8.8.2005 7:54pm
Andy (mail) (www):
NARAL= National Abortion Rights Action League.

However, it appears that they have decided that knowing what the acronym stands for is a bit unwieldy (how many non-engineers know the composite words that make up the acronyms "laser" and "radar"?) so they now de-emphasize it in their promotional materials.

(Or perhaps they have changed what NARAL stands for- anyone know for sure?)

Nonetheless, I think their ad is insidiously shrill, unfair, unsupported by facts, and entirely unconvincing- and I generally support abortion rights.
8.8.2005 8:15pm
Columbienne:
Crash - Come on, this is the real world where actual usage matters, not a judicial opinion where anything you can dig up in the dictionary counts. AF has it right.
8.8.2005 8:16pm
42USC1983 (mail):
Does a lawyer representing a client whose rights were violated excuse the client's underlying criminal conduct? Does a lawyer who argues that a law is unconstitutional excuse the underlying offense conduct as a matter of morals or policy? (These are asked only for the sake of argument, because if you commenters actually streteched your brains and read the cases and briefs, you would see an even less tenuous connection between Roberts' brief and terrorism.)

When the ad is understood by 90% of the public to mean something, is there a good chance that the producer of the ad intended it to be so understood? In other words, can we infer the producer's intent from the video's impact?

Here's an analogy. If an employment practice has a disprate impact on minorities, courts allow persons harmed by the practice to argue: "Hey, this practice excludes 90% of blacks from a job. It's racially motivated." Indeed, employers enacted many job requirements in order to exclude blacks, e.g., by requiring that a manual labor position require a high school education.

If 90% of the audience understands that the video links Roberts to terrorism, can't we too argue that this was the producer's intent? Why, as a matter of principle, can we not make that argument?
8.8.2005 8:16pm
Columbienne:
...I haven't looked at the ad, so I can't comment on the shrillness. But I think it's entirely correct for Roberts to explain why he devoted his time to this case in particular.
8.8.2005 8:18pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Where to start?

Narrator: Supreme court nominee John Roberts filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups and a convicted clinic bomber.

Emily Lyons: “I am determined to stop this violence, so I am speaking out”

Narrator: Call your senators. Tell them to oppose John Roberts. America can’t afford a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans.

If "supporting violent fringe groups" means "arguing their side in a particular case," then the ACLU has a long, long history of "supporting violent fringe groups," to its considerable credit. And I don't suppose that NARALPCA particularly wants to tar anyone filing a brief in support of the appeal of, say, a convicted murderer as one who "excuse[s] violence against other Americans." People have, after all, been wrongly convicted of murder, as of many other things.

By the way, what is this "violence against other Americans" business? Violence against non-Americans isn't so big a deal? Fetuses aren't Americans because citizenship is conferred upon birth? Seriously, I don't know what purpose that phrase is meant to serve.
8.8.2005 8:26pm
Sandy007:
Reply to Columbienne:

Roberts to explain why he devoted his time to this case in particular.

He was Deputy Solicitor General. He argued the case for the U.S. as amicus.

8.8.2005 8:31pm
Adam (www):
But I think there's a difference, Michelle: the ACLU stands behind what it does and has a clear philosophy that determines when it will get involved.

We've been told by Roberts' supporters that no brief he's ever filed necessarily reveals anything about his judicial philosophy. It's all about the clients' needs, fair enough. But that doesn't mean we really know diddly-poo about what Justice Roberts, freed from client needs, freed from the constraints of stare decisis as an intermediate judge, will do with life tenure on THCitL.

This brief does not represent a difficult stance to defend publicly, and I look forward to his doing so.
8.8.2005 8:37pm
Michael:
Crash:

All we've shown with the "excuses" vs. "condones" thing is that NARAL is pursuing a two-faced strategy (say one thing for print media, put the opposite in the ads).

But that doesn't prove that Orin's statement is correct. AF and Columbienne are still arguing that Orin's statement is false and unfair.

The part of Orin's statement they disagree with is as follows: "it seems to be suggesting that John Roberts favors blowing up abortion clinics."
8.8.2005 8:47pm
Michael:
Columbienne:

Your first attempt to disprove Orin only helped me to show that NARAL had a two-faced strategy (because I could compare that NARAL quote to the actual words used in the ad)

Now you and AF are claiming that Orin is wrong to use the word "favors" when he says "it seems to be suggesting that John Roberts favors blowing up abortion clinics."

If John Roberts is "a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans" then NARAL is suggesting that John Roberts will improperly favor abortion clinic bombers in legal procedings. He will excuse their actions instead of applying the law. Why would he favor the bombers? Because he favors the bombings!

In claiming that Roberts "filed court briefs supporting... a convicted clinic bomber" NARAL is suggesting that Roberts will improperly favor bombers in legal procedings. Again, it's hard to see how he could favor the bombers without favoring the bombings.

In using the Emily Lyons quote ("I am determined to stop this violence, so I am speaking out"), NARAL is suggesting that the violence will get worse if Roberts ascends to SCOTUS. Why?

1 - Because they suggest he would be actively favoring those who commit such attacks, in his judicial opinions. He would be working to bring about more violence because he favors it.

2 - Because even if he never authors an opinion favoring bombings, his mere presence on the Court will send a signal to violent anti-abortion activists that bombings are okey-dokie? #2 is a pretty nuanced argument to make, and NARAL sure didn't make it in the ad. NARAL only said the problem was his "ideology."

Mr. Kerr's statement was not at all wrong or unfair.
8.8.2005 9:07pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Adam,

But I think there's a difference, Michelle: the ACLU stands behind what it does and has a clear philosophy that determines when it will get involved.

I am not so sure of that. I mean, leaving aside whether the ACLU intervened equally on behalf of refugees from Communist and non-Communist regimes (or indeed against those from Communist ones; c.v. Polovchak), what is the status of anti-abortion protesters, for one thing? If abortion is a civil right (as some argue), and peaceful protest is also a civil right, what to do when they conflict? I think it was rather easier for the Nazis to get their parade permit in Skokie than it would be for any anti-abortion group to get the ACLU's help in securing its right to protest outside an abortion clinic.

This brief does not represent a difficult stance to defend publicly, and I look forward to his doing so.

Yep, me too.
8.8.2005 9:17pm
Columbienne:
Sandy - So when does the Solicitor General file amicus briefs? What's the decisionmaking process? Clearly there's some discretion there, and I'd like to know what part Roberts exercised in this case in particlar. I'm actually not sure it's correct to parallel ACLU's docket with the choice of a political branch to participate in a civil case in which they are not a party — there does seem to be more underlying support for the conduct in question when the SG intervenes.

Or, we can ask Roberts himself about the political significance of SG amicus briefs: "Whom the new solicitor general decides to support — and in which cases — can play a significant role in shaping the impact of the Supreme Court..."
8.8.2005 9:20pm
aslanfan (mail):
If this argument is disqualifying, it’s only a short hop to conclude that Justice Kennedy’s acceptance of it is cause for impeachment. So NARAL should join forces with the kooks on the right calling for Kennedy’s impeachment. Bi-partisanship at its finest.
8.8.2005 9:23pm
Al Maviva (mail):
I don't know what NARAL stands for...

Numbingly Abysmal Raving And Lies, near as I can tell.
8.8.2005 10:31pm
AF:
Crash:<i>Hey NARAL defenders, you lose</i>

That's a thesaurus you cited, my friend, not a dictionary. Here's the American Heritage definition of excuse, the primary definition being "To explain (a fault or an offense) in the hope of being forgiven or understood."
http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=excuse
But we don't need to do dueling dictionaries. All native English speakers know that excuse does not mean condone (or favor).

Michelle Dulak Thomson: <i>If "supporting violent fringe groups" means "arguing their side in a particular case" . . .</i>

The ad says that Roberts "<i>filed court briefs</i> supporting violent fringe groups." (emphasis added) That <i>does</i> mean "arguing their side in a particular case" and is accurate.

Michael: <i>If John Roberts is "a justice whose ideology leads him to excuse violence against other Americans" then NARAL is suggesting that John Roberts will improperly favor abortion clinic bombers in legal procedings</i>

Orin didn't say "favors abortion clinic bombers in legal proceedings." If he had said that, his statement would have been accurate—and NARAL's would have been as well. What he said was NARAL suggested Roberts "favors blowing up abortion clinics."

Folks, this is politics. Tarring an opponent with guilt-by-association is okay. Deliberate misrepresentation is not. Orin appears to accuse NARAL of the latter, but in reality it is only "guilty" of the former and therefore is not guilty at all.
8.8.2005 11:56pm
Crash:
AF, your argument that the word "excuse" in this context does not even "suggest" (to use Keenan's words) the word "condone" is ludicrous.
First of all, I agree with your definition of "excuse."
But here's the dictionary condition of "condone"


To overlook, forgive, or disregard (an offense) without protest or censure.


http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=condone

To me, and any reasonable person, to say that someone "explained a fault in hope of being forgiven" at least suggests that that person also is trying to "forgive" the person who committed that fault.

Don't think dictionaries matter at all? Ok, let's abandon all attempts to set objective points of reference and just go by your "common man" understanding of the meanings. Your example of someone spilling a beer in a bar demonstrates the opposite of what you think it does. If I spill a beer and say "excuse me", I am indeed asking that the victim of the spilling condone my behavior. I am asking that he not get really pissed off at me for spilling the beer. In other words, I am asking that he "overlook" my behavior "without censure."
8.9.2005 12:19am
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
AF:

[I said:] If "supporting violent fringe groups" means "arguing their side in a particular case" . . .

[AF said:] The ad says that Roberts "filed court briefs supporting violent fringe groups." (emphasis added) That does mean "arguing their side in a particular case" and is accurate.

My point was that if "supporting violent fringe groups" means as little as supporting any legal claim any member of any such group tries to make, then any decent supporter of the First Amendment can claim plausibly a very long and distinguished history there.

And ditto for people convicted of violent felonies. Why is an accused clinic bomber less worthy of defense than an accused murderer? Even on appeal?
8.9.2005 12:22am
Gene Vilensky (mail) (www):
Isn't this ad sort of like the one in the 2000 election run by the NAACP showing a black man being dragged by chains and faulting Bush for not supporting hate-crimes legislation in Texas?

Now, how many of you who are here defending NARAL in this ad, would be screaming bloody murder at a right-winger making the claim that the ACLU condones terrorism?

As for the claim that we know where the ACLU stands but don't know where Roberts stands, that's a ridiculous argument. What, you think that there is a grave possibility that Roberts stands for murder? I think it's pretty clear that Roberts stands for the idea that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. Isn't this the main underlying issue here, not whether Roe v. Wade is good law? Presumably, there are many people who think that Roe v. Wade ought be overturned, but do not think that bombing abortion clinics is legitimate.

As someone mentioned before, does that mean that the ACLU should not have defended the Nazi marchers in Skoakie? For then, the ACLU would be condoning Naziism, right?

Finally, what was the actual legal question involved in the case they cite? What was Roberts' argument?
8.9.2005 1:29am
AF:
Crash: To be honest, I'm surprised by the definition of condone—I had always thought of it as closer to "endorse." But even by the definition you cite, condone doesn't merely mean "forgive;" it means forgive "without protest or censure"—in other words, without opposing that which is forgiven. The crucial distinction between condoning and excusing is that if you condone something you think nothing's wrong with it, while you can excuse something while still believing that it's wrong. So it is consistent for NARAL to describe Roberts as "excusing" but not "condoning" violence.

Michelle Dulak Thomson, I agree with you. As I said earlier, I think NARAL is engaging in guilt-by-association and I don't think the commercial presents a strong argument against Roberts. I'm defending the commercial's legitimacy, not its message.
8.9.2005 1:52am
Michael:
AF: Orin didn't say "favors abortion clinic bombers in legal proceedings."

I took it a step further. Why would he favor them in legal proceedings? Only if he approved of the bombings. If he did not approve of the bombings, why else would he favor the bombers in court? I posit that there are no other reasonable explanations. Supply one, if you think one exists.

I suppose the judge could be threatened with violence if he doesn't rule a certain way, or stand to receive a bribe, or make money in the stock market by buying stock in companies that manufacture bomb-resistant materials (or investing in bomb-proof abortion clinics, or RU-486)... but none of that seems very likely. And NARAL specifically made their complaint against his ideology.

NARAL is accusing Roberts of something very ugly--that he will disregard the law out of ideological contempt for the victims. NARAL is accusing Roberts of favoring the occurrence of crimes against that victim group. Which is exactly what Mr. Kerr said.

The only words Mr. Kerr should take back are "If I'm not mistaken, it seems to be"
8.9.2005 4:56am
B. B. (mail):
"If abortion is a civil right (as some argue), and peaceful protest is also a civil right, what to do when they conflict?"

That's easy -- they don't conflict if the protests are actually peaceful, and they shouldn't ever actually conflict. Marching on a public sidewalk with signs and allowing people to still enter the clinic is peaceful, and it doesn't interfere whatsoever with the right of a person to still enter the clinic to exercise their right to an abortion. Harassing patients and doctors as they enter and leave is not peaceful. Blocking the entrance and making it very difficult for someone to enter the clinic is not peaceful. Bombing a clinic is pretty obviously not peaceful. If the protest is peaceful, I don't see a clinic having any right to assistance from the police in dispersing the protest. If they are preventing access to the clinic (in many cases, this is preventing access to private property), or engaging in other non-peaceful protest, then police involvement in dispersing the protest should be required. I don't see where there would ever be any real conflict between the two -- a truly peaceful protest should never interfere with the right of an individual to an abortion.
8.9.2005 12:22pm
Harry Niska (mail):
Even if you cut past the quibbling about whether "excuse" is different from "condone," the NARAL ad is completely inexcusable.

First of all, NARAL doesn't actually explain how the 1991 case Roberts was involved in has any actual relationship to the 1998 bombing. But they sure try to make it seem like it does.

Second, and more importantly, the 1991 case, Bray, was not about clinic bombings. It was about whether some abortion protests were violations of the Ku Klux Klan Act. John Roberts argued, on behalf of the U.S. government, that the statute in question only applied if the protesters were discriminating against some protected class, and in this case it didn't apply. The Supreme Court agreed, so it seems likely that Roberts' involvement in this case was motivated by a desire that the Supreme Court arrive at the correct legal answer, not by an affinity for any particular abortion protestor.

So what is the connection between Roberts' and clinic bombers asserted by NARAL? From their press release:


The defendants in the Bray case included violent anti-choice activists Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue; Michael Bray, who had been convicted for his involvement in 10 bombings at health centers in the 1980s; and Patrick Mahoney, a consultant to Operation Rescue.

and

“In the four years before John Roberts argued Bray vs. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic in front of the Supreme Court, anti-choice radicals were responsible for at least 48 bombings and arsons in 24 states, along with 57 acid attacks, more than 4,000 disruptive acts such as bomb threats, harassing calls and hate mail,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “I want to be very clear that we are not suggesting Mr. Roberts condones or supports clinic violence. I’m sure he finds bombings and murder abhorrent. But still his ideological view of the law compelled him to go out of his way to argue on behalf of someone like Michael Bray, who had already been convicted of a string of bombings.

In other words, according to NARAL, once a person has committed an act of violence, it is never permissible to support any legal claim that they make. That is not okay even if you represent a party other than this violent person. And it is not okay no matter how correct that legal claim is. (Remember, Nancy Pelosi has declared that any decision by the Supreme Court is as correct as if God has spoken). And once you do support a correct legal claim made by a person who has committed an act of violence, you are responsible for all similar acts of violence that might be committed by anyone (even unrelated bombers) in the future.

Anybody care to defend that line of reasoning? It makes an awful lot of lawyers people "whose ideology leads [them] to excuse violence against other Americans." It's hard to think of who John Kerry could have appointed to the Supreme Court that would have met that test.
8.9.2005 2:03pm
Steve R:
Gene Vilensky asked, "Finally, what was the actual legal question involved in the case they cite? What was Roberts' argument?"

Per the link Orin gives for context:


1. The case in which Roberts submitted an amicus brief on behalf of the United States, Bray v. Alexandria Clinic, presented the question whether the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871 provides a federal cause of action against persons obstructing access to abortion clinics. The particular provision at issue had long been construed to require showing of a “class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus.” Relying on precedent and logic, the Supreme Court easily determined that opposition to abortion does not reflect an animus against women as a class, “as is evident from the fact that men and women are on both sides of the issue, just as men and women are on both sides of petitioners’ unlawful demonstrations.”



Over all, I don't like the tone of either NARAL or Edward Welan (who, for example, lacks the courtesy to use "Pro-Choice" as opposed to "Pro-Abortion"). I also feel that this particular case is a poor indication of any proported slant of Roberts's other than one favoring proper application of law.
8.9.2005 9:03pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Steve R,

"Pro-choice" and "pro-abortion" are both tendentious. What's wrong (apart from length) with "pro-abortion-rights"? No one is against "choice" as such, and using "choice" this way is obviously just a means to avoid mention of "abortion." (I remember Jesse Jackson taking this a step further a few years back, talking about a woman's "right to termination." "Terminating a pregnancy" was already a euphemism, but Jackson was balking at "pregnancy." )
8.10.2005 7:16pm