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Saperstein and Gutmann: Mr. Honaker’s record leaves us with serious doubts as to his ability to safeguard religious liberty and reproductive rights… With the stakes so high – a lifetime appointment to the federal bench – we feel compelled to oppose a judge who would endanger our core freedoms.
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Washington, March 27, 2008 - In response to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the nomination of Richard Honaker to the District Court of Wyoming, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dr. Cheryl Gutmann, Chair of the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism, sent the following letter to the full Senate, urging opposition to the Honaker nomination.
The full text of the letter follows:
As you consider the nomination of Richard Honaker for a seat on the District Court in Wyoming, we write on behalf of the Union for Reform Judaism, encompassing 1.5 million Reform Jews in 900 congregations across North America, to express our opposition to this nomination.
Our decision was not taken lightly and is the product of several months of deliberation on the part of our Movement’s local and national leadership. In 2002, the Union for Reform Judaism adopted a resolution that established our criteria for considering nominees to the federal courts. Under these criteria, which are not limited to issues of character or professional competence, we will oppose a nominee in those rare cases in which after consideration of what the nominee has said and written and his or her record, a compelling case can be made that the appointment would threaten protection of those most fundamental rights our Movement supports.
Based on these criteria, on March 17, 2008 the Executive Committee of the Union for Reform Judaism resolved to oppose the nomination of Richard Honaker to the District Court in Wyoming, on the basis that Mr. Honaker’s confirmation to the Court would threaten protection of those rights including, but not limited to, the separation between church and state and reproductive freedom. This conclusion was reached because Mr. Honaker’s record on religious liberty and reproductive rights raises serious concerns about his ability to be an impartial adjudicator, one who respects stare decisis on relevant cases that will most certainly come before him should he be given a seat on the federal bench.
- Several speeches by Mr. Honaker over a span of years demonstrate clear and forceful disdain of Supreme Court decisions that preserve the separation of church and state called for in the Establishment Clause and suggest that his disagreement may be deep-seated enough that he would disregard precedent in this area;
- Mr. Honaker was a major and influential anti-choice ideologue in Wyoming and his failure to state during his hearing that he would uphold Roe v. Wade causes grave concern that challenges to reproductive freedoms would prevail in Wyoming;
- Mr. Honaker’s nomination has sparked a national debate on both these issues of key concern. Indeed, his nomination is likely to be perceived as a referendum on these issues and will have significant implications beyond this individual nomination.
As a religious minority, our community has historically been committed to maintaining a strong wall of separation between church and state. In a September 1992 address to the Wyoming Christian Legal Society, Mr. Honaker repeatedly argued that America was built on Christian values, and that God’s absolute truth alone is the foundation for freedom, justice and the law. Mr. Honaker heralded a 19th century Supreme Court decision in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States ruling that the United States is a Christian nation and he deplored the recent trend away from this view (as demonstrated, he said, by the ruling prohibiting the posting of the Ten Commandments in public institutions). He criticized Justice Souter’s sentiment that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own idea of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Mr. Honaker’s views would have a divisive impact on America, casting as outsiders minority religious communities such as the Jewish community.
A longtime advocate for women’s rights and reproductive choice, the Reform Movement is also deeply concerned by Mr. Honaker’s views on this issue. In his address to the Wyoming Chapter of the Christian Legal Society Mr. Honaker stated absolutely that abortion is “wrong, and no one should have the right to do what is wrong;” that he disagreed with the Supreme Court’s decision that “an unborn child is not a person;” and that abortion is comparable to slavery. Women of all faiths must be allowed to make health care decisions in consultation with their doctors and with the guidance of their own faith teachings, free from government interference.
Mr. Honaker’s record leaves us with serious doubts as to his ability to safeguard religious liberty and reproductive rights. His assertion in a June 2007 letter to Sharon Breitweiser, the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, that his judgments can always be appealed and “nobody would remember what the trial judge did anyhow” demonstrates a dismissive attitude toward the significance of the bench that is frankly alarming in someone who would wield such power. That Mr. Honaker declined to provide in his questionnaire copies of floor speeches and legislation from his years in the Wyoming State Legislature, as well as his evasive answers during his hearing, only further concerns us about what has yet to be revealed. With the stakes so high – a lifetime appointment to the federal bench – we feel compelled to oppose a judge who would endanger our core freedoms.
We therefore urge you to oppose the nomination of Richard Honaker to the District Court of Wyoming and we stand ready to discuss our concerns with you or your staff in greater detail.
Rabbi David Saperstein
Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
Dr. Cheryl Gutmann
Chair, Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.