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WHAT WE THINK
Democrats' retreats set the stage for Senate filibuster battle
Bush's creeps in the courts

May 20, 2005 | Page 3

BEHIND THE posturing and the political maneuvering in Washington over the Senate filibuster rule, one thing is clear--George W. Bush and the Republicans are on the attack, and they're ready to do anything to fill the courts with antigay, anti-abortion fanatics. The question is whether the Republicans will settle for one of the Democrats' "compromises"--in reality, a slightly milder form of surrender--or simply steamroller their way through.

The media have downplayed the right-wing agenda in all this, instead inundating us with details of what a filibuster is--when one senator holds the floor indefinitely to block legislation from being voted on.

The Republicans' backers on the Christian Right want Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to use the "nuclear option"--forcing through a change in Senate rules to bar the filibuster in the case of judicial nominations. That would open the door to Senate approval for a group of right wing judges to the federal judiciary. Last month, Frist starred in a telecast called "Justice Sunday: Stop the Filibuster Against People of Faith," sponsored by right-wing groups like the Family Research Council.

How are the Republicans getting away with it? For one, Congressional Democrats are so concerned with taking up "moral values" following their 2004 election defeat that they are echoing the Republicans who they're supposed to oppose--for example, retreating from their traditional stand in support of a woman's right to choose abortion.

Secondly, liberal organizations like the National Organization for Women, which a decade ago might have organized to push back the right, are following the lead of the Democrats and watering down their message. And the more the Democrats and liberals give ground, the more the Republicans demand.

Thus, when a Nebraska federal district judge dared to rule against a state constitutional ban on gay marriages because it outlawed all same-sex relationships, James Dobson of the fanatical Focus on the Family was quick to condemn the "activist" judge. "Today's ruling marks the first time a marriage-protection amendment has been overthrown by the whim of a federal judicial tyrant," he said.

In fact, it is the right that's trying to shove judicial activism down our throats. Consider Bush judicial nominees Janice Rogers Brown of California and Priscilla Richman Owen of Texas, two of 10 right-wingers put forward by the White House whose nominations have been held up in the Senate.

Brown, who was tapped for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, once called the New Deal a "socialist revolution." In 2000, she said in a speech, "Where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates and our ability to control our own destiny atrophies...The result is a debased, debauched culture which finds moral depravity entertaining, and virtue contemptible."

Owen, who is angling for seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, is an old ally of Karl Rove, Bush's political fixer. Owen is rabidly anti-abortion. In one case in Texas, in which a teenager sought to obtain an abortion without parental consent, Owen argued that the teenager should be refused because she hadn't demonstrated that she knew of religious objections to abortion, or that some women who underwent abortions had experienced severe remorse.

Then there's William Pryor Jr., a former Alabama attorney general who has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee for a spot on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. In one brief that Pryor filed to the Supreme Court on behalf of a Texas anti-sodomy law, he warned that if gay sex were decriminalized, legalized necrophilia, bestiality and child pornography were just around the corner. "I believe that not only is [Roe] unsupported by the text and structure of the Constitution, but it has led to a morally wrong result. It has led to the slaughter of millions of innocent unborn children," Pryor recently told members of a Senate panel.

The Democrats say that they're going to fight these appointments. But even if they do block a few of the worst Bush nominees, this won't make up for the dozens of other conservative judges they've let through without a peep.

Already, Congress has already approved 205 of Bush's judicial nominees--giving the administration a 95 percent success rate. And as the Republicans threatened the "nuclear option," Senate Democrats were working to head it off with a compromise that would allow most of the offending nominees to be confirmed.

We've seen these "compromises" with Bush before--with Democrats backing bankers to push through the bankruptcy "reform" and caving to the anti-abortionists' lies to accept a ban on a late-term abortion procedure misnamed "partial birth" abortion by the right. And that's not to mention the Democrats' all-but-unanimous support for recent legislation to spending another $82 billion on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush and the Republicans are out for blood, and the only thing that will stop them is a fighting opposition--something that the Democrats aren't prepared to offer.

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