Justice Memo Raises Questions on O’Connor

Conservative groups are angry with the Administration’s selection of Sandra O’Connor for reasons other than her past views on abortion and the Equal Rights Amendment.  Many believe, for instance, that the Administration actually tried to deceive the nomination and about the record of O’Connor.

A Human Events reporter was told that he could at least see a summary of O’ Connor’s decisions from the Arizona Appellate Court, but, after the pledge, the key Administration official who made the promise failed to deliver.  Other reporters, not just conservatives, received similar treatment.  “They seemed to be stonewalling us,” said Conservative Digest Editor John Lofton.

Word initially came out of the White House that the President had spent some 50 minutes with O’Connor to satisfy himself that she was now well grounded philosophically, even if she may not have been much of a conservative in the early ‘70s.

But when Mrs. O’Connor held her Phoenix press conference, she said she spent only 15 minutes with the President.

Even more serious, so far as conservatives are concerned, was the July 7, 1981, memo for the attorney general from counselor Kenneth W. Starr.  The memo states that star talked to O’Connor y phone on two occasions on July 6, and that she “provided the following information with respect to her public record on family-related issues.”

But if O’Connor provided the record, it was far from complete.  For instance, the memo refers to House Bill 20, which virtually eliminated restrictions as to when a doctor could perform an abortion. “There is no record of how Sen. O’Connor voted, says the Starr memo, “and she indicated that she has no recollection of how she voted.”

Yet Dr. Carolyn Gerster, the leader of the right-to-life movement in Arizona, has since forwarded to the attorney general a copy of an April 30, 1970, article in the Arizona Republic, which boldly states that O’Connor voted in favor of the legislation.

The Justice Department memo also completely omits from the O’Connor record her April 23, 1974 vote in the Senate Judiciary committee against a resolution urging Congress to support a human life amendment to the Constitution.  Why, right-to-lifers are asking, wasn’t this important vote in the memo?  Did Mrs. O’Connor’s memory fail her, or did the Justice Department fail to include it?

Equally disturbing to skeptics is this line in the memo: She knows well the Arizona leader of the right-to-life movement, a prominent female physician in Phoenix, and has never had any disputes or controversies with her.” But that is just plain false.

Dr. Gerster, who heads the Arizona right-to-life movement, informed us that she has frequently been at odds with Mrs. O’Connor on the abortion issue.  When we were talking with her last week, Dr. Gerster was in the midst of preparing a letter for the attorney general which took sharp issue with the wording of the Starr memo which Dr. Gerster said made it seem as if she and Mrs. O’Connor shared the same views on abortion.

In truth, Dr. Gerster informed the Justice Department’s chief, William French Smith, she had been in an “adversary relationship: with Mrs. O’Connor on the abortion issue during the 19673 and 1974 because of her own pro-life activities.  And Dr. Gerster couldn’t understand why no one at Justice – especially Starr – had called her to get her side of the story.

Because of such episodes as this, a coalition of conservative and anti-abortion groups last week, with Conservative Caucus chairman Hoard Phillips as the chief spokesman, suggest there had been a “cover up” of Mrs. O’Connor’s real record.

Kathleen Teague, executive director of American Legion Council said: “The information we have on he abortion record, when compared with the information contained in the memorandum…shows an apparent prima facie cover-up either on the part of Mrs. O’Connor or on the part of the attorney general’s office or both, of her voting record on abortion.”

Whether or not it was deliberate or just sloppy staff work, the Administration has clearly bobbled the handling of the nomination, and angered its core supporters in the process.


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