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Viewed from television, John Roberts Jr.’s confirmation hearings seemed at times like a particularly long and slow-moving Shakespearean play. The drama featured arcane language, obscure references to historical events, and occasional senatorial asides directed at the audience rather than at the other characters onstage. Tom Coburn nearly wept, Ted Kennedy bellowed, and Jon Kyl delivered a number of soliloquies on, well, whatever seemed to come to mind. But away from the cameras, a second drama unfolded: the battle by activists, political aides, and media advisers to influence perceptions of the hearings. On the opening day of the confirmation hearings, among the gaggle of conservatively dressed reporters, interest group presidents, and professional spokespeople was a dark-haired woman dressed in a sapphire 18th-century ball gown. Anti-abortion activist Merrie Turner, who introduced herself by extending an arm encased in an elbow-length white glove, had come to the hearings dressed as Betsy Ross. The costume is an effort to remind the Senate, she said, of the country’s “patriotic, Christian roots.” Turner’s attire had presented some difficulty at the entrance to the Russell Senate Office Building. There, security guards took away her flag, and, as she told a reporter, her corset set off the metal detector. Turner is no stranger to judges. In 1991 she and three dozen or so other “sidewalk counselors” scaled a fence surrounding the Women’s Health Care Services clinic in Wichita, Kan. She did so, she later testified, in order to place her body in front of a woman who was attempting to enter the clinic. Turner was arrested and convicted of obstruction of a federal court order and sentenced to one year of probation (a charge of assaulting a federal officer was dropped). She took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which affirmed her conviction. She appealed to the Supreme Court, which, in May 1995, decided not to take her case. In the intervening years, Turner has remained something of a freelance activist. She’s toured the country with the Ten Commandments monument that ended the judicial career of former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Earlier this year, during inaugural week, she hosted a “First Ladies Inaugural Tea Honoring First Lady Laura Bush,” at the Mayflower Hotel. Unfortunately, according to an Associated Press account, the first lady didn’t attend (a spokeswoman for Laura Bush told the AP she’d never been invited, something Turner disputed). But the Supreme Court seems to have stayed close to Turner’s heart. She’s currently living on Second Street Northeast, she said, “directly behind the Court.” She’s also working on a screenplay about her struggle and the high court. In the meantime, Turner is reluctant to discuss how she pays her bills while crusading against Roe v. Wade. “I think the rewards will be in turning the tide in our country,” she said. WARRING OVER RIGHTS After the first day of hearings in an ornate chamber in the Russell building, the next three days shifted to a more utilitarian room in the Hart Senate Office Building. In the hallway outside, television news crews planted their cameras, making the area the de facto “spin zone” for the rest of the hearings. There, during Roberts’ second day of hearings, Kim Gandy of the National Organization for Women stepped up to a C-SPAN microphone and told the cameras that Roberts has “left open the door” to overturn Roe. Standing directly behind her was Kay Daly, president of a group called Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. She shook her head and rolled her eyes at the feminist. “The left is going to whine and complain no matter what,” she said. Have Daly and Gandy ever had a cup of coffee together to discuss their differences? “I’d like to,” Daly said. “I’d like to try to persuade her to join our side.” FRIST’S FRIENDS Mixed in with the crowd on Sept. 14 was Bishop Harry Jackson of the Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Md., accompanied by a young publicist who eagerly approached reporters to introduce the bishop. Jackson, who wore a blue suit, gold-rimmed glasses, and a “Confirm Roberts” sticker on his lapel, is the author of The Black Contract with America on Moral Values, a tract that argues that blacks should vote for politicians who share their values, irrespective of political party. “I don’t think it’s healthy the majority of blacks are taken for granted by Democrats,” he said. In April he joined Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) on the “Justice Sunday” telecast to evangelicals, as part of the effort to force Senate votes on President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees who were threatened with filibuster. “My concern is, we’re living in a time where we need to have civil rights legislated and not founded in judicial decisions,” Jackson said. His advice for the second Supreme Court vacancy: conservative Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “She seems to embody what I’d call black excellence,” he said. Also in the hallway supporting Roberts was the Rev. Joseph Evans of Washington’s Mount Carmel Baptist Church. Though he was also wearing a “Confirm Roberts” sticker, his support was more guarded. He said that Bush should have tapped Justice Clarence Thomas to become chief justice and should fill the next vacancy with another conservative black lawyer — perhaps PepsiCo General Counsel Larry Thompson. PROFESSIONAL PROTESTERS Hundreds of yards of white chain fencing was set up between the Hart building and Union Station, to control what was expected to have been a mass of hundreds of observers interested in witnessing the Roberts confirmation hearings last week. But the crowds — or masses of protesters — never materialized. That’s not to say there were no activists at all. As the senators paused for lunch on Sept. 13, about a dozen women and girls in lime-green “Women For Roberts” T-shirts gathered on the sidewalk on the north side of the Hart building. Among them was Claudia Barlow, a conservative activist from Northern Virginia who said she thinks judicial interpretations of some gender discrimination laws have gone too far. “Title IX has hurt men’s sports,” she said of the statute that requires men’s and women’s sports to receive equal funding. But for Roberts, though, she had no criticisms. “He’s Clark Kent,” she said. “He’s a beautiful man in every way. He’s got a fair and balanced demeanor for the Court.” On the south side of the building, a group of roughly two dozen — mostly young women — voiced their opposition to Roberts. “Clean water, clean air, John Roberts doesn’t care,” they chanted. To passers-by, they handed Payday candy bars labeled with statistics on pay disparities between men and women — a response to one of Roberts’ Reagan-era memos in which he discusses “perceived problems of gender discrimination.” Among the protesters was Erin Hanna, 25, a paid field organizer for NOW. Hanna said that as part of her work for the group, she was asked to review Roberts’ paper trail. “I was so horrified,” she said. “He’s extremely more conservative than Rehnquist.” The tepid turnout was something of a surprise to U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer, himself a lawyer (he served five years as chief counsel to the Chicago Police Department) and member of the Supreme Court Bar. “We’d prepared for much more,” he said. “It turned out to be a piece of cake.” A sentiment that, after the hearings concluded, John Roberts may have shared, as well.
Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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