Taking on the Lie of “Activist Judges”

John P. Dunne is a state court judge in New York’s suburban Nassau County. A graduate of Georgetown Law School, Dunne is a Korean War veteran decorated with a Purple Heart and earned his living in the 1980s as a Republican town leader.

You’d think such a credentialed conservative judge would be warmly embraced by the right wing.

Think again.

In 2003, Dunne ruled that a gay man could sue a hospital for the wrongful death of his late partner. The case was the first in the nation in which a court recognized as “spouses” a Vermont couple in a civil union legalized by that state. The case has put Dunne on the right wing’s hit list of so-called “activist judges.”

It’s a long list. For decades, conservatives have been cursing “judicial activism.” Over the last few years, as Lambda Legal and other groups have secured groundbreaking court rulings for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) peoples’ civil rights, the “activist judge” label has been used to discredit judges who extend basic fairness to LGBT people.

Why does this matter now?

Because lies about so-called “activist judges” have become one of the biggest weapons President George W. Bush and his right wing supporters are employing to fuel their efforts to amend our federal Constitution to forever prohibit same-sex couples from marrying. These ideologues are determined to convince people that judges are running roughshod over the Constitution whenever they help gay people and that this legitimate jurisprudence justifies the drastic step of changing our nation’s founding document.

Lambda Legal is determined to stop Pres. Bush and his right wing supporters in their tracks.

To put an end to the lie about “activist judges” ––and to engage LGBT communities in fighting this dishonest, divisive tactic–– Lambda Legal has launched a national campaign called “Judging Discrimination.”

Lambda Legal has taken on this unprecedented campaign because, as the LGBT community’s leading voice in the courts, we know the truth about the fight for justice and full equality. We’re making it clear that “activist judge” is nothing more than a label used to smear judges who take the Constitution and fairness seriously rather than automatically ruling in favor of the right wing agenda.

A judge like Republican John P. Dunne.

Lambda Legal’s “Judging Discrimination” campaign highlights Dunne and others who have been labeled “activist judges” but are really quite conservative (including an Arkansas Supreme Court justice; a U.S. Supreme Court justice; federal judges in Orange County, California, and Louisville, Kentucky; and a Massachusetts high court justice). A series of Lambda Legal newspaper ads are running in states where U.S. senators are perpetuating the myth that “activist judges” are ruining the nation. The ads profile these so-called “activist judges” and make it clear that these judges’ decisions in favor of gay people are about enforcing, rather than overriding, the Constitution.

While the ads are reaching millions of people in the heartland, they’re just the tip of the iceberg. Lambda Legal has also launched an aggressive Internet-based campaign that gives anyone in the country the chance to step forward and help stop Pres. Bush and the right wing from misleading the public and amending our Constitution.

Go to LambdaLegal.org/JudgingDiscrimination. You’ll see the ads and find information on the real story and action steps you can take to make a difference immediately. You’ll get regularly updated news about media that perpetuate the “activist judge” myth and ways you can directly contact these media outlets to set the record straight. You’ll learn how we’re organizing with college groups around the country to provide “refresher civics courses” to politicians who perpetuate this misinformation, and how you can participate. You’ll also find ways to write to your representatives in Congress to urge them not to engage in dishonest rhetoric about “activist judges” and not to write discrimination into our Constitution.

We have to take action today.

Last week, I sat in a U.S. Senate hearing called by Republicans who want to amend the Constitution to prohibit gay couples from marrying. Titled “Judicial Activism vs. Democracy,” the event was an appalling display of anti-gay bigotry in the halls of Congress. It was just one more example of the fraud being perpetrated on the American public by the extreme right. Together, we can stop them.

Whether you care about courts and judges or not, and whether you normally get involved in campaigns like this or not, now is the time to stand up and take action. We have a fight on our hands––for our basic freedoms, and for future generations of LGBT people who should not be written out of the Constitution.

Get involved in this campaign. Lambda Legal is used to winning tough fights, and this may be our most important one yet.

Kevin Cathcart is the executive director of Lambda Legal. For more information, go to LambdaLegal.org/ JudgingDiscrimination.

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