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Some civil rights group members support Roberts

Sen. Feinstein wants questions answered

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With the approach of Senate confirmation hearings for President Bush's Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, representatives from a handful of advocacy organizations Thursday announced support for him and criticized groups on the left who claim to speak for minority groups.

At a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, speakers from the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Project 21, the Center for New Black Leadership, and some members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said liberal advocacy groups who came out against Roberts' nomination this week did not speak for all minority communities, including blacks and Hispanics.

"We are not a monolith. We come from many different religious backgrounds and different socioeconomic backgrounds," said Jennifer Braceras, a member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Congress of Racial Equality spokesman Niger Innis, who led the coalition of organizations and individuals, said he was speaking on behalf of voices in the black community that often are not heard on issues of concern to all Americans, but particularly to African-Americans.

Among those issues, he said, are school vouchers, education, making government money available to faith-based organizations and making sure there is no discrimination against faith-based organizations.

On these type of issues, Innis said, the "voice you hear from this coalition represents a large segment of the African-American community that is standing behind John Roberts and his nomination."

CORE, a leading organization in the American civil rights movement, has taken a conservative turn under Innis' leadership.

Attacks 'predictable'

Braceras and others referenced recent opposition to Roberts' nomination voiced by liberal activist organizations such as People for the American Way. Those groups' attacks on Roberts, Braceras said, "are as predictable as the sunrise and as preposterous as the man in the moon."

She dismissed PFAW President Ralph Neas' comment this week that Roberts would try to turn back the clock on civil rights as a boilerplate radical agenda attack that special interest groups would make on any Bush nominee.

"The truth is that, contrary to the cartoon-like portrayals of John Roberts by special interest groups, John Roberts is a fair-minded jurist who will judge each case on its own merits," Braceras said.

Braceras is a Bush appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

She quoted Roberts as having written that "before the law, we do not stand as black or white, gentile or Jew, Hispanic or Anglo, but only as Americans entitled to equal justice."

Feinstein lists questions

Critics and supporters of Roberts' nomination held media events Wednesday and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, told a crowd of California lawyers the questions she wants answered before she makes up her mind about the nominee. (Full story)

Feinstein, the sole woman on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she would not vote to approve anyone she considers to be extremist.

"It is crucial that the nominee who replaces Justice Sandra Day O'Connor not only be intelligent and well-qualified but balanced and fair. His views should be within the mainstream and considered, and they should be without bias," Feinstein said at a Los Angeles County Bar Association event. "In other words, extreme ideology from the right or left is unacceptable."

The Senate Judiciary Committee is to begin hearings September 6 on Roberts' record.

Feinstein noted that O'Connor, who is retiring, has long played a pivotal role on the court. Of the 193 decisions handed down by a 5-4 vote, O'Connor's vote was decisive in 148, including a number of controversial rulings, the Democrat from California said.

Feinstein also said she would find it "very difficult" to vote to confirm anyone "whom I knew would overturn Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion.

Dueling media events

Earlier Wednesday, People for the American Way came out against the nomination, saying Roberts' record shows he would "undermine Americans' rights and freedoms" and could shift the balance of the high court to the right for generations.

PFAW released a 50-page interim report opposing the nomination and said a more comprehensive report will follow before Senate confirmation hearings begin.

Roberts supporters also turned out Wednesday. A group called "Women for Roberts" held a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington at the same time the PFAW was holding its event there.

Linda Chavez of the Center for Equal Opportunity said Roberts' views are "firmly in the mainstream" and he doesn't "have a sexist bone in his body."

"What is happening now in this Roberts nomination is simply a last-ditch, desperate effort on the part of feminists, who lost their battles for such things as comparable worth 20 years ago, to try to restart those battles again," she said.

Brigida Benitez, a board member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, said no one has found any reason to disqualify the judge.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce also backed Bush's nominee Wednesday, saying in a written statement that Roberts' "experience will serve the court and the nation favorably."

CNN Producer Ted Barrett contributed to this report

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