A Sept. 24 editorial said that People for the American Way issued a "vicious" statement about Sen. Patrick Leahy's decision to support the confirmation of John Roberts as chief justice.

We are mystified by this characterization.

We found Leahy's decision "deeply disappointing" and "inexplicable" given that his own remarks made a compelling case for opposing Roberts.

Your editorial also called us "dead wrong" for asserting that senators who vote to confirm Roberts will be complicit if Roberts leads the court in retreat from protecting Americans' constitutional rights and liberties. It is your editors' conclusion that is dead wrong, unless they believe that senators should take no heed of a potential justice's judicial philosophy.

Considering a nominee's approach to the Constitution is not an attack on judicial independence; it is part of a senator's obligation to make an independent evaluation of judicial nominees. Sen. Dianne Feinstein clearly understood the importance of this role when she said of her own deliberations about voting on Roberts, "I began to think, if I vote for him, and he goes the other way, and it was a situation where women would die, I'd never forgive myself."

We have great respect for Leahy, even when we strongly disagree with him. As an independent, nonpartisan organization that robustly criticizes Republican senators when we believe that they are undermining constitutional principles, we also do not shy from criticizing Democrats when we disagree with their decisions.

-- Ralph G. Neas


The writer is president of People for the American Way.


On Sept. 26 The Post observed that in naming Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, "the White House appears tempted to sacrifice both quality and breadth of potential support in order to push the court to the right. That would be an unfortunate move." But two days before, on Sept. 24, The Post criticized me for saying the same thing, i.e., "We expect the next nomination to ignite a firestorm of opposition."

The nagging question is why, when we both referred to the White House's apparent intentions, The Post ran an editorial saying my remark showed that public interest organizations would oppose any appointment by President Bush. I'm even more perplexed because when The Post called me to discuss the remark, I explained that we are prepared to support a consensus Republican nominee and have floated a number of possibilities to interested parties.

Unfortunately, this fits a pattern of The Post belittling public interest organizations with a broad brush, never acknowledging that much of what many organizations do is far more nuanced and reflects much of what The Post itself says. Like the media, public interest organizations concerned about the judiciary play a healthy role in stressing the importance of and giving transparency to a process that profoundly affects our constitutional democracy. If it's okay for The Post to express views about a judicial nominee, why is it any less legitimate for public interest organizations to do so?

The Post is entitled to criticize senators and organizations that reached a different, though equally principled, conclusion on John Roberts's nomination. But it should not ignore or mischaracterize facts that inconveniently undermine its criticisms.

-- Nan Aron


The writer is president of the Alliance for Justice.