DATE February 15, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way,
discusses the upcoming battle over President Bush's judicial
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Yesterday, President Bush renominated 12 candidates for federal courts whose
nominations were blocked or slowed by Democrats during his first term.
Democrats say the nominees they have opposed are out of the judicial
mainstream. Republicans are accusing Democrats of being obstructionist. The
judicial battle is likely to intensify if Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist, who
has cancer, decides to resign. Today and tomorrow, we'll discuss the
divisions over judicial appointments. Tomorrow, my guest will be Boyden Gray,
the head of The Committee for Justice, which is dedicated to defending and
promoting the president's judicial nominees.
Today, we're going to hear from Ralph Neas, president of the liberal group
People for the American Way. The group opposes the confirmation of judges it
considers to be right-wing ideologues. Neas has been president of People for
the American Way since 2000. From 1981 to '95, he was the executive director
of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. In that capacity in 1987, he
led the coalition that successfully blocked the confirmation of Judge Robert
Bork when he was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Reagan.
Can you give us an overview of the judges that President Bush might appoint in
the Supreme Court and in the lower federal courts? And by an overview, I mean
the number, the scope.
Mr. RALPH NEAS (President, People for the American Way): Many Americans are
unaware that the president of the United States, George W. Bush, could get as
many as four Supreme Court nominations over the next three or four years. In
fact, one of the few things that George W. Bush and I agree on is that
prediction. And we have to be very careful, because all the Supreme Court
decisions now are 5-to-4, 6-to-3, either way.
With respect to appellate court judges, again, not many Americans know the
real facts, because the right wing and the Bush administration and Tom DeLay
and Bill Frist and others try to give the contrary message. But George W.
Bush has gotten more judges in his first four years than Bill Clinton, than
Ronald Reagan and H.W. Bush. He has had 204 confirmed out of the 214 who went
before the Senate. Now the 10 worst were filibustered. The Democrats were
courageous enough to stand up and filibuster--and a filibuster, of course,
means that you need 60 votes to confirm somebody--kept the very worst nominees
from the appellate courts. But still, 95 percent of the Bush nominees were
GROSS: What are the typical decisions that the lower federal courts hear, the
Mr. NEAS: Unfortunately, a lot of people don't pay too much attention to the
lower courts. When the Supreme Court's at stake or when the Supreme Court has
a vacancy, the nation pays attention. But when it comes to the appellate
courts, most people feel, as generations of Americans have felt, that the
appellate courts are there to follow the precedents of the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately for the last 15 or 20 years, that's not happened.
There was a decision with the advent of the birth of the Federalist Society in
1983 to start pushing, not just the Supreme Court to the right, but the
district courts and the appellate courts. A lot of people don't realize the
Supreme Court handles about 80 decisions per year. The appellate courts
handle 30,000 cases per year. So for millions of Americans, the court of last
resort is the appellate court. And too many of the appellate court judges,
rather than following precedents, are making their own precedents, especially
on the 4th Circuit and on the 5th Circuit, so these circuit court nominations
are very, very important.
GROSS: It's likely that Justice Rehnquist will retire and that President Bush
will appoint a new chief justice of the Supreme Court. What is the importance
of the chief justice?
Mr. NEAS: The chief justice has many important functions that makes him or
her very powerful. Obviously, there are nine equal votes on the Supreme
Court, but the chief justice can push the court in a particular direction
through their sheer dint of personality and the responsibility of deciding, in
many ways, who is going to write the majority decision, the decisions as to
what appellate briefs will be accepted, requests for decisions by the Supreme
Court and, of course, the ability to forge compromises.
We all remember from our history books the Warren court and the tremendous
advances with respect to Brown vs. Board of Education and all of the civil
liberties issues. Every court is, in many ways, defined by the chief justice,
not always, but the majority of the time.
GROSS: If President Bush appoints a new Supreme Court chief justice, he will
be in a pretty unprecedented position in that the Supreme Court made the
decisive ruling on his presidency, you know, on him winning the election, and
then he'd be in the position of appointing a chief justice from among the
people who made that ruling. I think this is unprecedented. Does that raise
any questions for you?
Mr. NEAS: George W. Bush owes his original election to two factions: the
United States Supreme Court and to the religious right, the radical religious
right which forms his base. About 23 percent of his vote in the year 2000 and
probably even more in 2004, he owes the the radical religious right in a big
way. If it wasn't for the radical religious right and the 5-4 majority in the
United States Supreme Court, George W. Bush would not be president. And he
has told them, `I will nominate justices in the mode of Thomas and Scalia.' I
personally hope that he breaks his pledge. I hope he puts the country ahead
of his political debts, ahead of his political obligations. I doubt it,
though. I think that he has premised his presidency on a Scalia-Thomas court
majority that will turn back the clock almost 70 years on civil rights, on
privacy and reproductive rights, on the environment, on religious liberty and
a host of other issues that most Americans think are theirs forever.
GROSS: Republicans are considering trying to end the Senate filibuster, end
the ability of the Senate to legally filibuster in order to prevent Democrats
from using the filibuster as a technique to stop President Bush's judicial
appointments. Orrin Hatch, when he was the head of the Judiciary Committee in
the Senate, called the use the filibusters in the appointment process
unprecedented, unfair, dangerous, partisan and unconstitutional. And he said
they're creating a constitutional crisis. Now I know that you disagree with
that. Why do you disagree?
Mr. NEAS: The filibuster has been used by the Senate now for over 200 years,
and it really is what makes the Senate different than the House of
Representatives. The Senate is the deliberative body, and the filibuster
might be the most defining characteristic of the United States Senate. In
fact, the reason, I think, why some Republicans are joining Democrats in
opposing the efforts of Bill Frist and Karl Rove and George W. Bush to
eliminate the filibuster is they don't want to turn the Senate into the House
The filibuster has historically been used to block things when either
side--and both sides have used a filibuster for over 200 years--when one side
thinks something is so bad, so unconstitutional, so contrary to the country's
interests, they try to block it by the use of the filibuster, by making the
other side get 60 votes. The other reason for the filibuster--and this is a
really, really important point to make--is it is what forces the parties to
get together and negotiate, to compromise and try to find a bipartisan
And the founding parents of this country were so good, had so much foresight,
because we're in one of those unique moments--in fact, this might be one of
the most unique moments in our country's history when one wing of one party
controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives and is
very close to controlling the third branch, the Supreme Court. And in the
House of Representatives, Tom DeLay can get to 218 votes anytime he wants. It
might take 15 minutes or, as in the case of the Medicare bill, it might take
three hours, but he's going to get to 218 votes, a simple majority.
What Bill Frist and Karl Rove want to do is turn the Senate into the House so
that it takes only 50 votes plus Dick Cheney's vote to break a tie, to have a
slim majority to do whatever it wants. I would argue now that the filibuster
and Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy are the only three remaining
checks and balances in our entire federal system. Certainly, the filibuster
is the last check and balance in the legislative branch, and those two Supreme
Court justices are the only two checks right now in the Supreme Court. This
is vitally important to make sure that we do not have a situation where one
party with a simple majority can do whatever it wants in this country. That
is dangerous. That's contrary to the American way.
GROSS: How many times have the Democrats used the filibuster in the last four
years to block one of the president's judicial appointees, and do you consider
that number obstructional?
Mr. NEAS: There have been 214 nominees before the United States Senate. Two
hundred and four, 95 percent, have been confirmed. There have been 10
filibusters. That is not excessive, especially when you consider that in the
last five or six years of the Clinton administration, Orrin Hatch, along with
John Ashcroft, Bill Frist and Trent Lott, blocked 35 percent of Bill Clinton's
circuit court nominees. Thirty-five percent weren't even given a hearing or a
vote in the Senate committee, let along an opportunity to be filibustered or
voted up and down on the floor of the United States Senate. What they did
from 1995 to 2000, the right wing, was unprecedented. Certainly, what the
Democrats in the last three years have done is consistent with the history of
the last 200 years, consistent with what Republicans and Democrats have done
with the use of the filibuster.
GROSS: My guest is Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way.
He'll be back after a break. Tomorrow, we'll talk with Boyden Gray, founder
of The Committee for Justice, whose goal is to defend and promote the
president's judicial nominees. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way,
which is opposing judicial nominees it considers to be on the far right. We
recorded our interview yesterday just before President Bush renominated 12
judicial candidates whose confirmation was blocked or slowed by Democrats
during his first term.
What are senators supposed to consider when they're evaluating the merits of a
Supreme Court nominee? What is considered fair and what is considered
inappropriate to ask about?
Mr. NEAS: When it comes to Supreme Court nomination, it's competence, it's
character and also judicial philosophy. When it's the lower courts, it should
be competence and character. When there is a Democratic administration, the
pendulum will swing slightly to the left. When it's a Republican nomination,
the pendulum will swing slightly to the right. However, what happened is that
the pendulum, when the Republican Senate was in control during the Clinton
administration, the Republican administration put its hand on the pendulum and
stopped it and created vacancies and perpetuated those vacancies. So when
poor Senator Pat Leahy became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in
June of 2001, believe it or not, there were 112 vacancies in the federal
courts because of what Orrin Hatch and Bill Frist and John Ashcroft and Trent
Lott had done.
One year later, after Pat Leahy, selectively using the filibuster against the
most extreme of the Bush nominees, but not using it in most cases, the
judicial vacancy went down to about 43, the lowest vacancy rate in about 20
GROSS: President Bush had said that there are so many vacancies in the
federal appellate courts that it constitutes a crisis, and that's one of the
reasons that's been used to support the end of filibuster, because if
filibusters are used to block more judicial nominees, then that crisis would
only increase. You're saying there isn't really a crisis, and you're also
saying if there is a crisis, it's because Clinton nominees were blocked so
that there were vacancies.
Mr. NEAS: There certainly was a crisis when Senator Pat Leahy took over in
the summer of 2001. And Senator Leahy and Senator Daschle and others took
care of that crisis. I think sometimes the president uses the `crisis' word a
little bit too frequently. He's using it now with respect to Social Security
when there's not one. He's used it in other international contexts, and now
he's using it with respect to the judiciary context. There is no crisis.
Whatever vacancies that there are remaining are the result of that effort to
erect an ideological blockade during those last five or six years of the
Clinton administration. And remember, the Republicans have been in charge of
the United States Senate for the last couple of years, and many people were
never brought to the floor.
But the main point here is that the reason you have checks and balances, the
reason you have the possibility of using a filibuster, is hopefully to help
promote bipartisan consultation, negotiations, compromise, consensus. What
this administration fails to do, unlike any other administration that I've
ever seen--and I've been here in Washington, serving Republican senators,
working with Republicans and Democrats--I've never seen anyone as partisan as
George W. Bush, any administration or any Senate as partisan as the ones that
we have now. What they've got to do is what has happened over the last 220
years, sit down and compromise, sit down and negotiate and reach that
bipartisan consensus, and then those remaining vacancies could be very quickly
addressed, and we could have a much better judiciary and a much better system
GROSS: You've used the word `worst.' You've said that the Democrats have
only blocked the worst of the judicial nominees. What do you mean by the
worst? I want you to choose a nominee that was blocked by the Democrats you
consider to be among the worst and tell us why you're using that word to
Mr. NEAS: I could probably give you many examples, but let me use one to
start off with, Priscilla Owen, who is a judge on the 5th Circuit and is
probably considered a possibility for the Supreme Court, even though she was
defeated by the Senate a couple of years ago. Priscilla Owen was before the
Senate Judiciary Committee and was subsequently filibustered by the full
Senate. And one of the key issues was how Priscilla Owen was ruling on a
range of issues in the Texas Supreme Court, issues with respect to
reproductive rights, with respect to employment discrimination cases, with
respect to business-vs.-consumer issues and a host of other issues that came
before that court.
Interestingly enough, Alberto Gonzales, now the attorney general of the United
States, was on the same Texas Supreme Court. On issue after issue after
issue, the Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen would rule and misinterpret or
reinterpret what the Texas state Legislature had ruled on a particular case,
most notably on a range of reproductive rights decisions, but also on other
kinds of issues before the court. So here is a good example of someone who
had an extreme judicial philosophy with respect to civil rights, with respect
to consumer rights and with respect to reproductive rights and privacy.
But what made her especially extreme was she allowed her personal ideology to
trump her responsibilities as a judge. She did not act consistently with the
law. She, rather than interpreting the law, made the law. In fact, it was so
egregious that Alberto Gonzales, on 11 different occasions, said that she was
guilty of judicial activism, saying at one time, an unconscionable act of
judicial activism. She was far to the right of Alberto Gonzales, now the
attorney general of the United States Department of Justice.
GROSS: You've said you think that William Pryor is likely to be among the
first judges to come before the Judiciary for the federal appellate courts.
You think he is extreme. You would like to see his nomination blocked. What
qualifies him as extreme in your judgment?
Mr. NEAS: My guess is William Pryor--it's hard to say who was the most
extreme: Priscilla Owen or Carolyn Kuhl or Janice Rogers Brown or William
Pryor, but William Pryor has to rank in the top one or two, especially with
his extraordinarily intemperment, injudicious views with respect to the
Supreme Court and the kind of language he used to criticize the Supreme Court
on one decision after another.
Certainly at the top of his criticisms of the Supreme Court were those
concerning Roe vs. Wade and Roe vs. Wade's progeny over the last 20, 30 years.
And he went to great lengths, speaking in many different forums, to be very
critical of the Supreme Court itself with respect to reproductive rights and
He also was one of the first and most early proponents of Judge Roy Moore.
And you might remember the showing of the Ten Commandments or the display of
the Ten Commandments in the courthouse in the capital in Alabama. And Roy
Moore made a crusade out of this and continued to display the Ten Commandments
to the defiance of both the lower courts and ultimately to the higher courts.
But the United States government and state's government cannot impose one
religious view over another.
So William Pryor, with respect to the First Amendment, with respect to
reproductive rights and privacy, with respect to employment discrimination and
civil rights generally--and I can go on and on and on--is certainly at the
very extreme of the American judiciary with respect to his judicial views, and
that's why he was filibustered successfully in the Senate.
GROSS: Ralph Neas is president of People for the American Way. He'll be back
in the second half of the show. Tomorrow, we'll talk with Boyden Gray, the
founder of The Committee for Justice. Its goal is to defend and promote the
president's judicial nominees. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, we continue our conversation about judicial appointments
with Ralph Neas of the liberal group People for the American Way. And TV
critic David Bianculli reviews three DVD compilations of TV shows: "Miami
Vice," "Murder One" and "Deadwood."
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Ralph Neas. Since 2000,
he's been president of People for the American Way, the liberal group which,
among other things, opposes the confirmation of federal judges it considers to
be far-right extremists. The group is poised to oppose any nominees to the
Supreme Court that it considers extremist.
Tomorrow we'll talk with Boyden Gray, the founder of the Committee for
Justice. That group's goal is to support President Bush's judicial nominees
and help them win confirmation.
Let's get to the Federalist Society. This is a very large group that I think
is unfamiliar to a lot of people. Many of President Bush's judicial nominees
belong to the Federalist Society. Let's start with an overview. What is the
Mr. NEAS: As opposed to what the Federalist Society says it is, which they
say is a debating society that just wants to develop the issues, it is a very
partisan, effective, right-wing organization of lawyers that's been around for
about 20 years. It once was on the outside; it's now on the inside. It runs
the White House Counsel's Office, it runs the Department of Justice, it runs
most of the federal agencies. When I talked about the most extreme of the
federal judiciary nominees, well, the Federalist Society is the most extreme
of the organizations out there with respect to judicial philosophy.
By the way, I just learned in the last week or so that the Federalist Society
has hired the same consulting firm, PR firm, that did the Swift Boat Veterans
that campaigned against John Kerry. They're going to use that same firm,
which is notorious to say the least with respect to its inaccuracies, to
represent them when it comes to the federal judiciary and the fight over
Supreme Court vacancies.
GROSS: What is the Federalist Society's judicial philosophy?
Mr. NEAS: The Federalist judicial philosophy is a philosophy--and we're not
talking here about good vs. evil. We're talking about dramatically different
judicial philosophies. And the Federalist Society believes that for the last
70 years or so, the Constitution has been in exile. The Federalist Society
wants to go back to a 19th century perspective on the interpretation of the
constitutional first principles, strict construction, original intent. The
Federalist Society disagrees with how the Constitution has been interpreted
since 1937. They disagree with how the Commerce Clause has been interpreted,
the Spending Clause has been interpreted, privacy, the 14th Amendment.
This is what the fight is all about. This is what the Bush administration is
trying to do: get a Supreme Court, get a judiciary that agrees with the
Federalist Society to undo 70 years of constitutional history, which will also
eliminate, by the way, the constitutional basis for progressive government.
So in one fell swoop in the next three years, we could lose not just the last
70 years of judicial precedence affecting the environment and civil rights,
reproductive rights and privacy, but also the constitutional basis for future
GROSS: You said that the Federalist Society wants to interpret constitutional
law as it was interpreted before 1937. What were the decisions in 1937 that
they want to predate?
Mr. NEAS: The first--the 30 or 40 years just before 1937 was the Lakna(ph)
era, and that was when the Supreme Court reigned and was able to veto
progressive legislation passed and enacted by progressive legislatures and by
progressive presidents. Some of us might remember from our history lessons
the child labor laws and the child welfare laws. All of those were vetoed by
a very right-wing, conservative Supreme Court.
Many of us will also remember that in our first four years of the New Deal,
those first four years were pretty much vetoed by the Supreme Court. It
wasn't until 1937, when the Social Security Act was upheld constitutionally,
1937, was the Spending Clause reinterpreted to favor the average American.
And then between 1937 and now, the Supreme Court reinterpreted not only the
Spending Clause, but the Commerce Clause, the 14th Amendment Equal Protection
Clause, privacy and many other constitutional provisions.
This, for many of us, has been a Second American Revolution, in which many of
the dreams and aspirations of the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution have been given some measure of reality.
Millions of Americans have been beneficiaries of these last 70 years. But for
the Federalist Society, for the Bush administration, for Bill Frist and Tom
DeLay, these 70 years have been an anathema. They want to overturn these 70
years, they want to repeal these 70 years. They want to get back to the Lakna
era, to the 19th century perspective on the Constitution.
GROSS: Wouldn't they say that the people who agree with you were ideologues?
You say it's a Second American Revolution. That sounds very radical.
Wouldn't they possibly say that you're the radical ones, you're the
Mr. NEAS: Well, the first American Revolution was radical, and the second
American revolution was radical. The Second American Revolution was also
bipartisan. These decisions have been rendered by both Republican and
Democratic justices. In fact, since 1950, 60 percent of the justices have
been Republican. Right now seven out of nine of the justices are Republican.
All the laws of the last 65 or 70 years have been passed with overwhelmingly
bipartisan majorities. For 70 years, we've had a bipartisan consensus on
protecting clean air and clean water or having equal opportunity in education,
employment, voting and housing or with respect to reproductive rights and
privacy. These have been enacted and interpreted by the Supreme Court over
the last 70 years, not every time in the same decade. But over a 70-year
period, we've had this bipartisan Second American Revolution.
GROSS: My guest is Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way.
He'll be back after a break. Tomorrow we'll talk with Boyden Gray, founder of
The Committee for Justice. Its goal is to defend and promote the president's
judicial nominees. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way,
which is opposing judicial nominees it considers to be on the extreme right.
We're talking about the Federalist Society. Who are some of the better-known
people who are in the Federalist Society?
Mr. NEAS: The founders of the Federalist Society were Robert Bork and Antonin
Scalia, Boyden Gray, John Ashcroft and John Ascroft's crew at the Department
of Justice, the solicitor general, the assistant attorney general for civil
rights, the assistant attorney generals for all the other departments, general
counsels at most of the executive branch agencies, Orrin Hatch. I could go on
and on and on. The Federalist Society lawyers control much of the executive
branch and much of the leadership of the House and the Senate at this time.
These are the right-wing ideologues who are lawyers, who have been part of
this Federalist Society since its inception in 1983. And they have a point of
view which is to take back the law before it was at the time of the New Deal.
It's a very real, very reactionary point of view, but they are no longer the
outsiders. They are the insiders. They are in control right now of the
GROSS: You say about the Federalist Society that instead of advocating
piecemeal change one lawsuit and one bill at a time, that the society seeks to
produce much broader change by altering the entire legal landscape. What do
Mr. NEAS: That's a great question. When I was at the Leadership Conference
on Civil Rights in the early 1980s and I had just finished eight years as a
Republican chief counsel to two senators and took over the Leadership
Conference on Civil Rights--and we had a series of remarkable victories in
1981 and '82 and '83 and were able to defeat the new right leaders. Ronald
Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president and vice president. And I think
that the right expected to win everything because of what had happened to the
presidency and what had happened to the United States Senate. But the
Congress was still bipartisan, and the moderates and the liberals were still
winning; hence the formation of the Federalist Society in 1983, 1984. And
they thought the only way to make sure that the right-wing revolution was
complete and long-lasting was to take over the federal judiciary, not just the
Supreme Court but the appellate courts and the district courts. That's how
it started in 1983.
And they can still work to try to influence legislation or influence case by
case, as they sometimes do. However, what they really want is a much more
revolutionary, much more breathtaking wide array of decision-making. And
that's the decision-making by the judges and justices at the appellate and
Supreme Court levels. They want to move to--the court way to the right. Once
they get in there, once they can reinterpret the Commerce Clause, once they
can reinterpret the Spending Clause and the 14th Amendment and privacy, they
can lock those decision in maybe for 30 or 40 years and not just undo or
overturn 70 years' worth of precedence. But by doing so, by the
reinterpretation of those clauses, they can take away the constitutional basis
for progressive government, take away maybe for 30 or 40 years. It could
render moot who becomes president or who controls both the House and the
GROSS: The ABA, the American Bar Association, used to be the group that
vetted nominees prior to their official nomination. In other words, if a
president wanted to nominate a judge, the ABA would vet that nomination first
and report back to the president. President Bush changed that. He's using
the Federalist Society, not the American Bar Association, to vet his nominees.
What do you think is the significance of that?
Mr. NEAS: The significance is that that has been a recommendation of the
Federalist Society since 1983. I'm not exactly sure of the reasoning because
the American Bar Association, while an important part historically going back
to the Eisenhower era, judging the technical expertise and the legal
competence and the character of the nominees--that's an important function,
but it never got into judicial philosophy or judicial ideology. So it did
serve an important function for the senators and for the executive branch and
probably helped prevent especially those nominees who would have been an
embarrassment to those nominating them. But they play an important role but
not that much of an important role.
But the Federalist Society, from the beginning, didn't want any competition.
They wanted to be the only ones involved in advising the executive branch on
what to do. But not only did they get to advise the executive branch, they
control the two offices, Office of Legal Counsel at the White House and the
Department of Justice, that actually recommends to the president who the
nominees are going to be. So the Federalist Society has been in charge of
every part of the process.
GROSS: And in 1997, Orrin Hatch, who was then head of the Judiciary Committee
and a member of the Federalist Society, announced that he would no longer
consider the ABA as being the--as having the official Senate role in the
confirmation process of vetting nominees for federal judges. He, I think, had
the Federalist Society do that as well.
Mr. NEAS: That's true. I'm pretty sure that the Federalist Society had taken
that position for some time prior to 1997. That was the first time Orrin
Hatch took that position. And, of course, once George W. Bush became
president in January of 2001, I think within a couple of weeks they adopted
the position of the Federalist Society.
GROSS: Does your objection to the Federalist Society go beyond the fact that
your politics are really different than theirs, that your judicial philosophy
is really different than the Federalist Society judicial philosophy? What is
your objection in terms of the way you perceive them operating? Because I
believe you're objecting to that as well.
Mr. NEAS: My problems with the Federalist Society, number one, are, of
course, our differences with respect to judicial philosophy. But maybe as
important, if not more important, I think the Federalist Society has been
absolutely dishonest. I think they mislead the American people, the Congress,
the press and everybody else. The Federalist Society likes to come across and
calls itself a debating society, and it has many different kinds of original
thinkers who are part of this debating society. And, of course, they love to
invite people from the American Way and other progressive organizations to the
table to debate the issues of the day.
Well, they do sometimes conduct debates, but they are not a debating society.
They are a close-knit organization of 20 or 30,000 lawyers across the country
with extraordinary power in the Bush administration, throughout the executive
branch, in the Congress, in the Senate. They have a point of view, they have
a judicial philosophy, and they want to turn the clock back 70 years. They
want to go back to a pre-New Deal type of government. And if they want to do
that, they should say that's what they want to do.
GROSS: Ralph Neas, thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. NEAS: Oh, thank you. It was my honor and my pleasure.
GROSS: Ralph Neas is president of People for the American Way. Tomorrow
we'll talk with Boyden Gray, the founder of The Committee for Justice. Its
goal is to defend and promote the president's judicial nominees.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: Don Byron's "I've Found a New Baby"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Monday on FRESH AIR we'll feature an interview with clarinetist and composer
Don Byron. His latest album, "Ivey-Divey," is dedicated to Lester Young.
Here's a track from it, "I've Found a New Baby."
(Soundbite of "I've Found a New Baby")
GROSS: Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews new DVDs of "Miami Vice,"
"Murder One" and "Deadwood." This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: DVD box sets for the first seasons of "Miami Vice,"
"Murder One" and "Deadwood"
TERRY GROSS, host:
Even though February is ratings sweeps month for television, when the networks
try their best to attract viewers, TV critic David Bianculli says he's drawn
more to the impressive releases of TV series on DVD. Among the current
releases, he says, are shows from three different decades that all tried
something original and succeeded.
DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:
Three new DVD box sets, each presenting the entire first season of a
pioneering TV series, were released recently on the same day. From the 1980s,
there's NBC's "Miami Vice," which forever changed television by injecting rock
music into the dramatic narrative. From the 1990s, there's ABC's "Murder
One," which predated "24" by devoting an entire season to one self-contained
continuing story line. And from the current decade, just last year, comes the
first season of "Deadwood," the boldly different, new Western series from HBO.
"Miami Vice," which premiered in 1984, took the then-fresh energy of MTV
videos and applied them to the standard buddy cop drama. Andrew Yerkovich
created the series, and producer Michael Mann was the guy obsessed with both
the visuals--all those pastels, all those defiantly cinematic camera
angles--and and the music.
It's difficult to watch dramatic TV these days, from "The West Wing" and "ER"
to "Gilmore Girls" and "Desperate Housewives," without encountering a montage,
usually at the end of the hour, backed and framed by a rock song with vocals.
It's so commonplace now, like the handheld jittery camera work from "Hill
Street Blues," that it's hard to remember a time when it was new. But it
started with the pilot of "Miami Vice," specifically when "In The Air Tonight"
by Phil Collins was used in the show's climax.
Don Johnson, as undercover cop Sonny Crockett, is on the way to a potentially
deadly, after-dark showdown with a drug dealer. But he stops along the way on
his rendezvous with destiny to use a pay phone to call his ex-wife, played by
Belinda Montgomery, who's serving dinner to their young child. That's one way
to gauge how old "Miami Vice" is. This is the era before cell phones. But
the integration of dialogue and music, so groundbreaking then, still sounds
(Soundbite of "In The Air Tonight" and "Miami Vice")
Mr. PHIL COLLINS: (Singing) Well, if you told me you were drowning, I would
not lend a hand.
(Soundbite of telephone ringing)
Ms. BELINDA MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) Honey, don't do that. Come on, use
your spoon. You know better than that.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) I've seen your face before...
Unidentified Child: ...(Unintelligible).
Ms. MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) No. Hello.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) ...but I don't know if you know who I am.
Mr. DON JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) Caroline.
Ms. MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) Sonny.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) Well, I was there...
Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) I need to know something, Caroline.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) ...and I saw what you did. I saw it with my own two
Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) The way that we used to be together--I don't
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) So you can wipe off that grin.
Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) ...but before...
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) I know where you've been. It's all been a pack of
Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) ...it was real, wasn't it?
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) Well, I remember.
Ms. MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) Yeah, it was.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) I remember, don't worry, worry, worry.
Ms. MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) You bet it was.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) How could I ever forget?
Ms. MONTGOMERY: (As Caroline) Sonny, what's wrong?
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) It's the first time, the last time...
Mr. JOHNSON: (As Sonny Crockett) Nothing, Caroline.
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) ...we ever met, met, met.
(Soundbite of telephone hanging up)
Mr. COLLINS: (Singing) But I know the reason why you keep your silence up, so
BIANCULLI: Universal Home Video's "Miami Vice" release contains that
movie-length pilot as well as all other shows from the first season. The
extras are disappointingly dated and thin, but the shows themselves are worth
the purchase, not only for the piece of TV history they provide, but for early
glimpses of such future stars as Bruce Willis, Jimmy Smits and Ed O'Neill.
From the '90s and from FOX Home Entertainment comes "Murder One," the Steven
Bochco courtroom series from 1995. Daniel Benzali from "NYPD Blue" stars as a
gruff but moral defense attorney, with Stanley Tucci as his much less
principled client. The breakthrough here is that the primary murder case,
from initial arrest to jury selection, trial and verdict, stretched over 23
one-hour episodes, and they're all here in this box set. Think of it as `23'
rather than "24" but requiring the same viewer commitment and offering the
same complexities. Its supporting cast boasts three wonderful actresses:
Patricia Clarkson, Donna Murphy and Bobbie Phillips. And "Murder One" is a
perfect series to watch on DVD, seeing the episodes as quickly or as slowly as
Best of all, though, is HBO Video's new release of "Deadwood," the Western
from David Milch of "NYPD Blue" fame. It's a series with such rough language
and content and characters, it takes a lot of getting used to. I wasn't sold
on "Deadwood" until episode six, but by then, I considered it one of last
year's very best programs.
The acting, particularly by Keith Carradine as Wild Bill Hickok and Ian
McShane as town patriarch Al Swearengen, is magnificent. Both of their
characters are based on real-life residents of the actual town of Deadwood.
But Milch has added lots of fictional characters and touches, all to explore
human nature at its best and worst in a dazzlingly different Western. And the
extras here are about as good as DVD extras get. There are documentaries and
audio commentaries and even a pair of special segments in which actor
Carradine interviews creator Milch about various aspects of "Deadwood" and
gives us special insight into the weird workings of David Milch's inner muse.
(Soundbite of interview segment from "Deadwood" box set)
Mr. KEITH CARRADINE (Actor, "Deadwood"): Now you've created--you've captured,
in a big way, the imagination of a large and, really, rabidly enthusiastic
audience with what you're doing here. It looks like you're going to be here
for a while, you know, the forces of nature willing.
Mr. DAVID MILCH (Writer-Creator, "Deadwood"): Yes. They say if you want to
hear God laugh, tell him your plans.
Mr. CARRADINE: Exactly.
Mr. MILCH: Yeah.
Mr. CARRADINE: That was the line in the last--in episode 12, yeah. How true.
Mr. MILCH: Yeah.
Mr. CARRADINE: So knowing that you're probably going to be able to do this
for a while, you don't strike me--well, you don't strike me as somebody who
has a master plan in that way. It seems as though you have picked a road to
Mr. MILCH: Yes, that's exactly right.
Mr. CARRADINE: And that's what you're going to do is just keep going down it.
Mr. MILCH: And I want to walk on it as long as, you know, God intends that.
And I've never been on any road that I didn't find interesting. You just have
to know how to look. And what allows you to look and to see is humility,
which doesn't require of the road that it conform to your expectations or your
previous experience or roads.
BIANCULLI: Any of these three DVD sets, "Miami Vice," "Murder One" and
"Deadwood," will provide hours and hours of entertainment. All of them are as
worthwhile as most of what's on TV today, which is why I continue to get
excited by the release of new box sets of old TV shows.
Oh, and the second season of "Deadwood," by the way, is just around the
corner. "Deadwood" returns March 6th on HBO.
GROSS: David Bianculli is TV critic for FRESH AIR and the New York Daily
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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