Pro-family leaders call for end to judicial filibuster; urge Christians to phone senators

Communications Staff — April 26, 2005

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Saying that the battle over judicial filibusters has major implications on the future of abortion, “gay marriage” and other cultural issues, religious leaders April 24 urged Christians to call their senators and demand an up-or-down vote on President Bush’s judicial nominees.

“We need to let our voice be heard because the outcome of this debate will shape the future of this nation,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said at a rally broadcast to hundreds of churches nationwide.

Dubbed “Justice Sunday,” the rally originated from a jam-packed Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where Perkins and other pro-family leaders gathered, saying that the filibusters have targeted specific justices for their conservative Christian beliefs.

The rally came as Republican leaders in the Senate consider a controversial parliamentary technique that would change Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster against judicial nominees. As of now, 60 votes are needed to overcome a filibuster. If the rules are changed, a judge will be confirmed with 51 votes. The rule change would not impact the filibustering of other action, such as legislation.

Democrats have used the filibuster to block 10 of Bush’s 52 nominees to the appeals courts. In many instances, their pro-life views were the target. Two abortion rights groups — Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America — have led the campaign against the nominees.

All of the nominees have enough votes for confirmation but not enough votes to overcome the filibuster.

“We’ve learned that we’re going to have to exercise our Christian citizenship beyond just the ballot box,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. “We’re going to have to follow this through all the way to the nomination and confirmation of judges.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee spoke to the rally via a pre-taped message, asking viewers to call their senator — whether it be a Democrat or Republican — and urge an up-or-down vote on nominees. He said that if the filibustering continues, Republicans will consider the rule change, which opponents call the “nuclear option,” supporters the “constitutional option.”

“Some Republicans — even some conservatives — don’t think we should press the issue of requiring votes of judicial nominees,” Frist said. “Their concern is that in the future, Republicans won’t be able to use this same device to obstruct Democratic nominees.

“That may be true, but if what Democrats are doing is wrong today, it won’t be right for Republicans to do the same thing tomorrow,” Frist added to applause.

Mohler gave two examples of justices he said were targeted because of their Christian beliefs:

— Charles Pickering, a Southern Baptist who was filibustered after being nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He eventually was placed on the court by Bush using a recess appointment and has since retired.

“In his [confirmation] before the senate judiciary committee he was asked about something he said as president of the Mississippi Baptist Convention,” Mohler said. “He said, of all things, that Christians ought to base their decision-making on the Bible. … He was speaking as a Christian to fellow Christians about our Christian responsibility. But in the views of some radical secularists, that just invalidates him from serving on the federal bench.”

Mohler warned: “If it’s Judge Pickering now, it can be you and it can be me tomorrow.”

— William Pryor, a Roman Catholic who was filibustered after being nominated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. He is the former attorney general of Alabama. Like Pickering, he also was placed on the bench using a recess appointment, although his term will soon expire if the Senate does not confirm him. During confirmation hearings Democrats objected to Pryor’s “deeply held personal beliefs.”

“Attorney General Pryor is a Roman Catholic. Those are his deeply held personal beliefs,” Mohler said. “… One of those beliefs is that human life is sacred from the moment of conception. … That’s why it is as if Catholics need not apply.”

Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, called the treatment of Pryor and Pickering “scandalous.” Colson spoke via a pre-taped message.

“What the Senate minority is trying to do is by a filibuster to seize what they lost at the ballot box …” Colson said, referring to the November election. “That’s destroying the independence of the judiciary, and it is destroying the balance of powers …”

Perkins said that using the Bible as a “guidepost for life” should not disqualify a Christian judge from confirmation.

“What we are saying tonight is that as American citizens, we should not have to choose between believing and living by what is in this book, and by serving the public — whether it be on the bench as a judge or whether it be in any other elected office,” he said.

Focus on the Family’s James Dobson pointed to several infamous cases in the history of the Supreme Court. The 1857 Dred Scott slavery decision said “that black people are not fully human.” The 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion case “has resulted now in 44 million deaths — the biggest holocaust in world history.”

For the past 43 years, Dobson said, the Supreme Court “has been on a campaign to limit religious freedom” through its rulings on prayer in school and at graduations and football games and through its decisions on the posting of the Ten Commandments.

If the federal courts do not change, Dobson said, it only will get worse.

“Where is this leading?” he asked. “… It goes directly to the redefinition of marriage. The courts already made that clear. That’s what they plan to do. It goes to further assaults on the sanctity of life.”

Pickering, who is best known to Southern Baptists by his service on the 1980s Peace Committee, also spoke at the event.

“The real reason they were opposing me was abortion,” he said. “That’s the engine that drove the opposition. But they tried to bring all these other things in to muddy the issue and smear the candidate.”

Harry R. Jackson, senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in College Park, Md., called for black and white evangelicals to come together on cultural issues. Jackson, who is black, said that, historically, blacks have emphasized “justice” issues, while whites have emphasized “righteousness” issues.

“It’s time that we come together and put both sides of the Bible together, and say that we’re going to stand up for righteousness and justice,” he said.

Mohler rejected assertions that the rally was politically motivated.

“I long for the day when we have to choose as candidates between a pro-life Republican and a pro-life Democrat, between a Republican who understands what marriage is, and a Democrat who understands what marriage is,” he said. “Then they can compete for our vote, because they’ll stand where America stands.”

Pro-family leaders are focusing on 21 senators as being key to the filibuster debate. They are: Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Arizona’s John McCain, Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, Colorado’s Ken Salazar, Connecticut’s Joseph Lieberman, Florida’s Bill Nelson, Indiana’s Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar, Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu, Maine’s Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, Nebraska’s Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel, Nevada’s Harry Reid, New Hampshire’s John Sununu, North Dakota’s Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan, Ohio’s Mike DeWine, Oregon’s Gordon Smith and Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee.

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