The Relgious Right and Filibusters

The Relgious Right and Filibusters

By Darrell Dow

The Covenant News ~ April 16, 2005


The current debate over Senate rules vis a vis the filibuster of judicial nominees demonstrates the hypocrisy, corruption, and lack of discernment among my brothers and sisters on the “religious right.”

According to Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, the filibuster is being wielded by God-hating liberals as a weapon against “people of faith.” Perkins also called the Democrats’ abuse of filibusters “an affront to the American people and a willful disregard of the Constitution.

“Our founding document is clear,” he said. “Judges are confirmed by the vote of a majority of senators — not the supermajority now imposed by the minority party.”

Conservatives were once leery of discovering new and novel “constitutional rights” in places where they had never been found before. The Constitution says only that the president “shall nominate, and by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, shall appoint” judges, ambassadors and other officers. To read that provision as a dictate to bring every nominee to a floor vote reveals that conservatives, too, have learned how to torture the Constitution into saying whatever they want to hear.

To gin up evangelical support for changing Senate rules and correct this “constitutional abomination,” the FRC is sponsoring an event here in Louisville. The gathering at local mega-church Highview Baptist will include such luminaries as Albert Mohler, James Kennedy, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and Senate Majority Leader (and 2008 presidential candidate?) Bill Frist.

Not to be outdone, Focus on the Family has announced an ad campaign directed at 19 senators in 14 states. FOF’s federal issues analyst, Amanda Banks, says that so-called “values voters” need to make their voices heard in the debate over the filibuster.

“If Democratic senators do not hear from their constituents, there is no question they will continue to obstruct the president’s nominees. If Republicans don’t hear from their constituents, they’re likely to allow the Democrats to continue unconstitutional tactics.

“With a Supreme Court nominee potentially right around the corner, we must convince the Senate to act now and restore the constitutional duty of senators to offer advice and give consent to judicial nominees. That means a fair, up-or-down vote in the Senate.”

I don’t recall consternation over the misuse filibusters when the GOP attempted to filibuster six of Bill Clinton’s nominees. Nor did religious conservatives invoke the name of the Almighty to condemn Republican congressmen who deep-sixed nominees in committee without permitting an “up-or-down vote in the Senate.”

Moreover, why are my evangelical brethren convinced that the GOP will do ANYTHING about judicial activism? Perkins says, “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.”

But the GOP has not used the constitutional mechanisms at its disposal to rein in the judiciary. Have they limited the appellate jurisdiction of the court or impeached even a single wayward judge? And one more thing; since the GOP appointed 7 of the 9 sitting Supreme Court justices and GOP-appointed judges already control 10 of 13 appeals courts is it the “liberals” and Democrats that are responsible for the very real problem of judicial dictatorship?

A second point is that conservatives, especially Christians, should be loath to eliminate checks on the legislative process. The filibuster is one such mechanism that serves to restrain legislators from barreling out of control. George Will points to this odd change in conservative philosophy, “Some conservatives oddly seem to regret the fact that the government bristles with delaying and blocking mechanisms — separation of powers, bicameral legislature, etc. The filibuster is one such mechanism — an instrument for minority assertion. It enables democracy to be more than government-by-adding-machine, more than a mere counter of numbers. The filibuster registers intensity, enabling intense minorities to slow or stop government.”

Will also points out that the change in Senate rules would further enhance presidential power, strengthening the executive branch at the expense of congress. Will astutely notes that the power of the executive branch has already been expanded immensely due to the “warr on terror” and the never-ending expansion of presidential war-making prerogatives and asks, “Are conservatives, who once had a healthy wariness of presidential power, sure they want to further expand that power in domestic affairs,” too?

The same question should be put to evangelicals, who claim to believe that the Bible teaches the depravity of man. Do they really want such power entrusted to one man sitting in the White House? Apparently, if he’s one of “us,” the answer is a resounding “yes.”

Darrell Dow writes from Jeffersonville, Indiana, where he works as a statistician. A misanthropic Paleoconservative, Darrell maintains a website and has a blog. He can be contacted here.

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