Email from C.J. Willkie Referenced by the Times

Editor’s Note: Below is the full text of an email from C.J. Willkie that was quoted in today’s New York Times cover article "G.O.P. Asks Conservative Allies To Cool Rhetoric Over the Court"

About a year ago, I attended a meeting of almost 500 Conservative leaders.  Judge Gonzales spoke to a general session, and I was able to ask him the following:

Q:  Judge Gonzales, we’re hearing conflicting reports about your position on abortion.  Can you tell us where you stand?

A:  As a judge, I have to make judgments in conformity with the laws of our nation.

Q:  Would you say that, regarding Roe vs. Wade, stare decisis would be governing here?  (Note, stare decisis means that he would continue to uphold that decision because he would regard it as a binding precedent.)

A:  Yes.

In response to this, there was a loud, spontaneous murmur across the entire auditorium of an “oooooh.”  Rising above that were clearly audible “boos.”

Approximately two months later, I was privileged to be part of a smaller group of business executives at a meeting in the White House.  One of the people who spoke to our group was Alberto Gonzales.  I was again able to ask a question:

Q:  Judge Gonzales, it’s well known that the Clinton administration had a very clear and consistent litmus test in regard to judicial nominations.  If that person was not pro-abortion, they were not nominated.  In light of this, do you ask your nominees what their position is on abortion?

A:  No, we do not.  We judge them on a very broad basis of conservatism and constitutional construction.

Q:  Many of us feel that the Constitution does not speak to permissive abortion.  Would you comment?

A:  The Constitution is what the Supreme Court says it is.

There were no audible “oooohs” this time, but as the day went on, including the social evening, a significant number of those attending individually sought me out.  Each expressed their deep reservation about this man being nominated to the Supreme Court.

Through the summer and fall, we heard almost nothing more about Judge Gonzales being nominated.  But, more recently, his name has again been floated in Washington as possibly Bush’s first nominee.  At a meeting of 65 pro-life leaders the day after the January 22nd March, my partner, Brad Mattes, asked a public question of Viet Dinh, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Policy, US Department of Justice.  Mr. Mattes reminded him of Judge Gonzales’ sharp criticism of Judge Owen and his answers to the questions (above).  He stated that we did not need another Souter, Kennedy or O’Connor on the Supreme Court.  “Abortion has been legal for 30 years and over 43 million babies have died.  It’s time that we put justices on the court who will reverse Roe vs. Wade and stop the killing… Judge Gonzales is not acceptable to the pro-life, pro-family movement.”  Uniform applause throughout the room followed his statement.  Mr. Dinh’s reply, we felt, was quite inadequate, as he did not directly address Mr. Mattes’ comments.

The other speaker on the panel, Manuel Miranda, Senior Counsel on the Senate Judiciary Committee, explained that Judge Gonzales’ words were “flippant” remarks.  Mr. Mattes responded that, flippant or not, the remarks were made and that Senator Lott recently learned such remarks can result in a very negative political reality.  “No amount of political rhetoric or explaining can excuse what we’ve heard from Judge Gonzales, and I suggest that you gentlemen move on and select a justice who is truly a strict constructionist…If Mr. Gonzales is nominated to the US Supreme Court, Life Issues Institute would probably respond by educating its radio audience of four million people and communicating with over ten thousand pro-life leaders and educators.”

Mr. Mattes spoke in some detail of the esteem and love that we hold for President Bush.  We respect his leadership and are grateful for his pro-life actions to date.  But he noted that the Supreme Court nominations will be the most important thing the President can do for the babies.  “As a result, Life Issues Institute would have to oppose a Gonzales nomination.”  Again, Mr. Mattes’ comments were followed by general applause….

Now is the time to act, before the President nominates a candidate to the Court.  A broad representation of pro-life, pro-family leaders and citizens must quickly communicate to Mr. Bush that Mr. Gonzales is not an acceptable justice to our nation’s highest court.

First, we must praise the President for his outstanding pro-life stand and actions.  He is without doubt the most pro-life and the most effective pro-life President in modern times.  But we must also point out to him, in personal visits, letters, emails, faxes or by any avenue that you might have access to the president, that the most important thing he can do is nominate solidly pro-life candidates to the US Supreme Court.

Mr. Gonzales deserves praise for his ongoing recommendation of good judicial candidates to Bush.  We are pleased with those that he has recommended for the lower courts.  In doing this, he is faithfully following the President’s direction.  But if he joins the US Supreme Court, he will then be beholden to no one and will be voting his own convictions and conscience.  We are deeply concerned about what some of these future votes will be.