Feature

It’s high noon in the battle over judges

Bush’s most controversial judicial appointments move closer to a showdown

What happenedThe Senate moved closer to a showdown on President Bush's most controversial judicial appointments this week, after the Judiciary Committee approved two of the 10 nominees who had been previously blocked by Democrats. Rival party leaders discussed compromises that would avert a showdown, but Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist said he would approve no deals that denied a single federal appeals court nominee the courtesy of a confirmation vote by the full Senate. 'œMost places call that democracy,' he said. If Democrats use the filibuster to block a vote on any of Bush's nominees, Frist said, Republicans will change the Senate rules to prohibit that tactic in the approval process for judges'”the so-called 'œnuclear option.''

In a rally televised to churches throughout the nation, evangelical Christian leaders accused Democrats of using the filibuster to keep 'œpeople of faith' off the bench. 'œJust because we believe in the Bible as a guidepost for life does not disqualify us from participating in our government,' said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council. Liberal religious leaders reacted angrily. Jim Wallis, an evangelical and the editor of Sojourners magazine, said conservative Christians were trying to start 'œa religious war' in pursuit of 'œa Republican theocracy.'

What the editorials said'œThis is political madness,' said The Dallas Morning News. The filibuster is a two-centuries-old tradition that keeps the majority from running roughshod over the minority. Both parties periodically abuse the tactic, as Democrats are doing now. But changing Senate rules for short-term 'œpolitical expediency' would be a huge mistake. The Senate owes it to the country to come up with a compromise. 'œThe raw exercise of political power on both sides of the aisle is bullheaded, shortsighted, and wrong.'

We've no fondness for Bush's nominees, said the Los Angeles Times, but the Republicans are right: 'œJudicial candidates nominated by a president deserve an up-or-down vote in the Senate.' Eliminating the filibuster for judicial nominees'”indeed, for all Senate business'”would not harm democracy in the least. In a democracy, Senators should vote their consciences and then answer to the voters.

What the columnists saidWe're entering dangerous territory, said Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic. The Republican Party has been hijacked by conservative fundamentalists who truly believe that 'œsince there is no higher authority than God,' the judicial system must reflect His will. By those rules, there can be no compromise on issues like the right to die, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell research. What the GOP is forgetting is that when compromise is impossible, there is no longer a chance to hold 'œcivilized' debate on anything. 'œPolitics becomes war.'

What hypocrisy, said syndicated columnist Cal Thomas. In the past, 'œliberals have been happy to align themselves with clergy and congregants who preached a social gospel that mostly followed the Democratic Party line.' It's only now that people of faith are weighing in on the other side that liberals are screaming about Republican 'œtheocracy.' It's democracy, not theocracy, that really frightens liberals: Having lost election after election, they know that keeping the courts packed with leftist activists is the only way they will be 'œable to force their views on a majority that doesn't share them.'

Both sides need to get 'œa firm grip,' said former U.S. solicitor general Theodore Olson in The Wall Street Journal. America's 'œindependent judiciary is the most respected branch of government, and the envy of the world.' We risk damaging it badly by personalizing and politicizing the confirmation process, with both sides using it to 'œexcite special-issue constituencies' and raise funds. For our democracy to function properly, the judiciary must serve as a firewall against political passions. Otherwise, 'œthe rule of law' will give way to 'œanarchy.'

What next?

The American Prospect

Roe v. Wade

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