WASHINGTON (Sep. 24)
Six Jewish organizations are urging the Senate to reject the appointment of Judge Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court, while two Orthodox groups support his confirmation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, which held hearings on the confirmation last week, is expected to vote on the nomination this week.
Thomas, a 43-year-old black conservative who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, is expected to be approved by the committee and then the full Senate to succeed Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black to sit on the court.
The Jewish organizations that have voiced opposition to Thomas are the American Jewish Congress, Jewish Labor Committee, National Council of Jewish Women, New Jewish Agenda, Union of American Hebrew Congregations and Workmen’s Circle.
Agudath Israel of America and the National Council of Young Israel have endorsed Thomas. Agudath Israel was the only Jewish organization to testify at the confirmation hearings.
David Zwiebel, Agudath Israel’s general counsel, told the committee that as chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982 to 1989, Thomas demonstrated sensitivity to the rights of Jews and other religious minorities.
Zwiebel cited two examples in which Thomas enforced a federal requirement that employers give reasonable accommodation to religious practices after employers misinterpreted Supreme Court rulings.
In one, employers were forbidding the wearing of yarmulkes on the job after the Supreme Court ruled that the military could forbid a Jewish officer from wearing one.
In another case, Thomas ruled that the Supreme Court’s striking down of a Connecticut law requiring Sabbath observers time off did not apply to other less absolute laws.
‘CONTEMPT’ FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
These cases not only demonstrate Thomas’ commitment to religious liberty, but also “his sensitivity to the potential power of a Supreme Court ruling and its ability to affect the everyday lives of Americans,” Zwiebel said.
But the American Jewish Congress maintained that during five days of testimony, Thomas did not forthrightly declare his views on abortion, civil rights and “natural law.”
“He lacks the vision of the Constitution as an instrument of progress toward a fair society,” said Henry Siegman, its executive director.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, while also citing these issues, expressed concern that “the right of religious freedom, as protected by the wall of separation of church and state, will be placed at even higher risk if he is confirmed to join an ideologically narrow U.S. Supreme Court.”
The Workmen’s Circle charged that Thomas “has shown contempt for genuine affirmative action programs.” It found nothing in his career to show that Thomas “can rise above his ideological biases.”
The three other Jewish groups had expressed opposition to Thomas before the hearings.