Fighting ‘barbarism,’ defending the Constitution

When 24 Republicans from the Nevada Senate and Assembly were looking to challenge the Nevada Supreme Court decision on taxes, they found a broad base of allies subscribing to various political beliefs to support the lawsuit. It would be hard, though, to find a farther-right ally than the one they found in the Claremont Institute, a conservative organization based in Claremont, Calif.

The Republicans contended that the Nevada Supreme Court violated citizen’s constitutional rights in its decision to temporarily throw out a two-thirds super majority vote requirement in order to balance the state budget and fund education.

Within a week of the July 10 decision, the Claremont Institute sent legal assistance. For more than a decade, the conservative group has sponsored legal cases ranging from attempts to impeach Bill Clinton to those that oppose abortion, affirmative action or gay rights.

Leading the charge in Nevada was attorney John Eastman, director of the Claremont Institute Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence. Eastman, who represented 24 state legislators in the case against the Nevada Supreme Court decision, said he saw the court’s decision as a violation of rights guaranteed to citizens under the U.S. Constitution. After a panel of seven federal district judges in Nevada agreed they did not have jurisdiction in the case, a challenge went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Eastman said the case could eventually end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eastman sports ultra-conservative political views on many issues.

In 2000, Eastman wrote an article for the Los Angeles Daily Journal about abortion and homosexuality titled “The 20th Century’s Twin Relics of Barbarism.” In the article, Eastman states that abortion is barbaric because it “deprives some human beings of a right even more precious than liberty, the right to life itself,” while homosexuality is barbaric because it undermines “the institution of marriage and the civil society that rests on it.”

He said he does not see his controversial stances as a liability either in the court of law or in the eyes of the public.

“There’s an old adage that there is no such thing as bad press,” he said. “And saying that abortion is barbaric is hardly extreme. The fact of the matter is that I’m proud to stand by our organization and what it believes in. After all, we are the leading think tank in the country, and our organization is so bread-and-butter that we are completely mainstream America.”

Several members of Claremont Institute have been at the forefront of right-wing political causes. Claremont Vice President Larry P. Arnn is a member of the Council on National Policy, a network of Republicans that includes televangelist Pat Robertson and religious-right radio broadcaster James Dobson. The group frequently meets to plot political strategy. According to The Wall Street Journal, Arnn has called for a repeal of the 16th Amendment, which gives the federal government the power to levy income taxes.

Perhaps the most extreme member of the Claremont Institute is Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., who sits on Claremont’s board of directors. Ahmanson, a California multi-millionaire who inherited Home Savings of America from his father, also served for more than 20 years on the board of the Chalcedon Institute. That group’s vision statement, as posted on its Web site, proposes a return to “an explicitly Biblical system of thought and action as the exclusive basis for civilization.” Chalcedon’s president, Dr. Rousas J. Rushdoony, is considered to be the modern patriarch of Christian Reconstructionism, a group that believes that the nation’s legal system should be modeled on Biblical Old Testament law, where offenses such as blasphemy and adultery could be punished by death.

Ahmanson has also generously funded the movement to teach creationism along with evolutionary theory in schools.

“Howard is a great member of our organization,” said Eastman. “But I don’t think it’s fair to say that just because a certain member has a certain view that it reflects the organization’s view.”

Republican Lynn Hettrick, Nevada Assembly speaker and a party to the challenge to the Nevada Supreme Court decision, said that Claremont Institute’s conservative stances are irrelevant to the matter at hand in Nevada.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” Hettrick said. “But the Claremont Institute is a highly respected organization that believes in separation of powers and appropriate actions by all branches of government. Now if their opinions were having some sort of impact on the case, that would be different. But their opinions are not having an impact, they’re arguing the case on its merits.”