Americans United Urges Senate To Reject 'nuclear Option'

Majority Leader Frist, Religious Right Allies Want To Stack Courts With Extremist Judges, Watchdog Group Says

The U.S. Senate must reject Religious Right demands that it suspend filibuster rules and confirm judges who are outside the mainstream, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United says the Senate must resist efforts to stack the courts with judicial extremists. The filibuster, AU says, is an important tool to exclude judge nominees who do not have a proper judicial temperament.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is spearheading a drive to exercise the "nuclear option," a procedural move that would allow judicial nominations to be voted on by a bare majority of senators, instead of the 60 now required.

"Federal judges are a vital line of defense against unconstitutional governmental measures that would reduce Americans' freedom," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "The Senate has an obligation to ensure that our judges are fair-minded and impartial."

Lynn said at least two of President George W. Bush's appointees, Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor, have harshly criticized the separation of church and state and questioned whether the Bill of Rights applies to the states.

The AU leader noted that only a small percentage of Bush appointments are being held up through filibusters.

"Most of President Bush's judicial appointments have been confirmed and are sitting on the courts," Lynn said. "Only a handful who hold truly extreme views have been blocked."

Lynn criticized Frist for working with Religious Right leaders behind closed doors to plot ways to stack the judiciary with extremists who toe the Religious Right's line on social issues.

During a closed-door meeting of the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., in March, Frist pledged fealty to Religious Right goals, attacking "activist judges [who] are not interpreting the Constitution, they're rewriting it." He promised to override the Democratic filibuster. The meeting was not open to the public, but a tape was obtained by Americans United.

The Family Research Council, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and an array of other Religious Right groups are demanding that Frist proceed with the showdown over the filibuster.

Focus of the Family, headed by influential broadcaster James Dobson, has made it clear that the filibuster fight and the conflict over judicial appointments is a step on the road to Religious Right control over government.

In FOF's May 16 Citizenlink e-mail alert, FOF legal issues analyst Bruce Hausknecht said, "Believe it or not, there is a simple correlation between the types of judges that we put on the bench and the moral issues of the day. Are we going to be a nation that murders its preborn children and tries to wipe Christianity from the public square, or are we going to be a nation that holds dear its principles, as enunciated in the Declaration of independence and the Constitution, that we are 'one nation, under God'?"

Americans United says senators must defend the integrity of the judicial system and resist the campaign to confirm judges who fail to meet the highest standards of independence.

"Good judges respect our Constitution and don't trash it," Lynn said. "The Senate must preserve the filibuster and reject this dangerous Religious Right power grab."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.