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Friday, April 15, 2005

What is the Connection Between Faith in America and Filibusters in the U.S. Senate?

Stones Cry Out has an interesting take and additional observations on the Family Research Council's "Justice Sunday" program April 24.

Justice Sunday is an attempt by FRC to make clear to America's evangelical pentacostal and fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics that there is a critical faith component to the Senate debate on the Democrats' use of an extra-constitutional super-majority as an obstruction to Bush judicial nominees.

The organizers hope the result will be a massive expression of public support for the so-called "nuclear option" Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been fitfully threatening to use since January to force up-or-down votes on judicial nominees.

Among the featured speakers will be FRC president Tony Perkins, Prison Fellowship's Chuck Colson, Focus on the Family's Dr. James Dobson and Frist. If advance registration is heavy, don't be surprised for other GOP and conservative movement politicos to appear on the program, or try to anyway.

Here's how FRC describes the need for Justice Sunday:
"For years activist courts, aided by liberal interest groups like the ACLU, have been quietly working under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.
"Federal judges have systematically grabbed power, usurping the constitutional authority that resides in the other two branches of government and, ultimately, in the American people.
"We now have a President who is committed to nominate judicial candidates who are not activists, but strict constructionists -- judges who will simply interpret the Constitution as it was written.
"We now have a majority in the U.S. Senate that will confirm these nominees. However, there is a radical minority that has launched an unprecedented filibuster against these outstanding men and women.
"Many of these nominees to the all-important appellate court level are being blocked, not because they haven't paid their taxes or because they have used drugs or because they have criminal records or for any other reason that would disqualify them from public service; rather, they are being blocked because they are people of faith and moral conviction.
"These are people whose only offense is to say that abortion is wrong or that marriage should be between one man and one woman."

The way the Democrat minority is able to impose a super-majority requirement on confirmation of judicial appointees is simple: By threatening to filibuster any nominee and thus requiring that nominee to have at least 60 votes - a super-majority - for confirmation. Under Senate rules promulgated when Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, was Majority Leader, any senator can filibuster and the filibuster can only be broken when 60 senators agree to do so.

But here's the two-fold catch for the Democrats claim they are only using a time-honored parliamentary procedure in the filibuster. First, before the present debate, the filibuster was never used against a presidential nominee. It is most commonly associated with efforts such as those of Southern Democrats to frustrate passage of civil rights legislation in the 1950s and 1960s.

Second, there are seven supermajority requirements in the Constitution. None concern presidential nominees and Senate votes.

Notes Stones Cry Out:
"While Frist’s decision to use the faith card is by no means the threat to the republic that Chuck Schumer and others claim, it is nonetheless a risky calculation. It may help focus the attention of Christian conservatives on the filibuster issue, but if the concentrated power of the Christian lobby is defeated here, it may embolden those who seek to discredit the newly realized power of the movement."

Of course, losing is always a potential downside of taking a risk, especially in politics. But the worst outcome comes from doing nothing, which is esentially what Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-TN, has been doing on this issue for the past three months. Do nothing and the Democrats succeed on two levels: They effectively bar any presidential nominee they choose to bar and the expose yet again the sorry fact that too many Senate Republicans are scared to death of making Senate Democrats angry.

Here's my prediction: MSM coverage of Justice Sunday will either be sparse or condescending, or both. Blogosphere coverage on the Left and Right will be diverse, comprehensive, informative and most of all impassioned. And the MSM wonders why it has lost credibility and readers?

There is another possibly even more significant angle to Justice Sunday. Note that it is being simulcast on the Internet and via satelite. (For information on participating, go here.) To my knowledge, it is not being broadcast live or delayed by any of the networks or cable outlets.

So this will be strictly an Internet/New Media event. If FRC succeeds in mobilizing an effective force on the issue, there will no longer be any doubt that the MSM can indeed by circumvented by a coalition of advocacy groups. It will also spark numerous imitators on the Left and Right, and could lead to the creation of a whole new genre of public lobbying. There are undoubtedly additional implications of a successful Justice Sunday, but we'll leave for another day that analysis.

Conversely, if Justice Sunday comes and goes with little or no impact beyond its participants, the MSM's attitude towards Christian political activists will harden and grow more explicitly arrogant. Which will only drive the former to work harder to find more successful ways around the latter.

On the Left side of the Blogsophere, the reaction is mixed, ranging from mere opprobrium to much worse. Eschaton, for example, says Justice Sunday participants "hate the Constitution. They hate everything, everything that we were taught (back in the day at least) that is supposed to be great about this country."

And Talking Points Memo's Josh Marshall adds this contribution to the civility of American public discourse by calling Justice Sunday "sick, dark and demented." Marshall adds this: "I don't know which is more amusing -- the wingnut jihad against a federal judiciary that is already predominantly Republican or the fact that the intellectual and often literal descendents of the upholders of Jim Crow now seek to enlist the dark legacy of segregation as some sort of arrow in their rhetorical quiver."

This is going to be fascinating to watch regardless of the outcome.

UPDATE: Patrick Ruffini asks some hard questions for Left critics of Justice Sunday and all other manifestations of Christians exercising their First Amendment rights:
"What is it about politically-oriented Christians that elicits this peculiar line of attack? Why is it that so many believe that people of faith must be especially circumspect in how they express their views as compared with others?
"How can it be that once can "impose a theocracy" simply by speaking out? How come frankly stating one's beliefs is a healthy part of the public debate if you're anti-war, or pro-gun, or anti-death penalty, but if that belief has to do with the divinity of Jesus Christ, you are "imposing" your views and you must be silenced?
"Those who think that a couple of references to God will uniquely corrupt the body politic must have incredibly fickle minds."

It's because these questions are so obvious and yet the critics of the Religious Right refuse to answer them that it is so difficult to avoid concluding that the Left simply seeks to silence its opposition. Which is another way of saying the Left wants the First Amendment only for itself.