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Pro-family leaders supporting Senate rule change effort

Updated April 18, 10:55 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Senate appears headed for a confrontation over judicial filibusters within the next month, and social conservatives are stepping up to encourage a change in the rules.

The Washington Post reported April 15 that associates to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist say an attempt to change the rules to prevent the filibustering of judges is “all but certain” to occur in the next weeks. If that is done successfully, the confirmation of judges would require only a simple majority of 51 votes, and not the super-majority of 60 votes now needed to overcome a filibuster.

Such a change would result in more conservative judges being placed on federal courts — possibly even the Supreme Court — which would impact everything from abortion to same-sex “marriage” to Ten Commandments displays.

“I think it’s going to happen,” Sen. John Thune, R.-S.D., said of a rule change attempt, according to The Post.

Using the filibuster, Senate Democrats have blocked nearly one-fifth (10 of 52) of President Bush’s appellate court nominees. All 10 had enough votes for confirmation but not enough votes to overcome a filibuster. Many of them were criticized for their pro-life rulings and views. President Bush has resubmitted seven of the nominees, and Democratic leaders say they once again will use the filibuster to block them.

The rule change became possible last November when Republicans increased their majority status from 51 to 55 seats, bringing in several social conservatives who support the rule change. Nevertheless, a rule change is not guaranteed. One Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, says he will oppose it. Republicans can afford to lose five votes and still win the vote, with Vice President Dick Cheney breaking a 50-50 tie.

Hoping to put pressure on senators to support the change, Christian leaders are coming together for a “Justice Sunday” nationwide simulcast April 24. In addition to Frist, Focus on the Family’s James Dobson, Prison Fellowship’s Charles Colson, Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s R. Albert Mohler Jr. are scheduled to speak.

Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., is hosting the event, which is set to begin at 7 p.m. EST. and is being sponsored by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family Action. (Information about how churches and individuals can watch the simulcast is available at www.frc.org.)

“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,” Perkins said in a statement on FRC’s website. “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.”

Republicans say judicial filibusters are unconstitutional. The Constitution, they say, is clear in defining when super-majorities are needed — for instance, when confirming treaties. But the confirmation of judges isn’t one of those instances.

Democrats counter by saying that a rule change would alter decades of Senate tradition, and that Republicans blocked President Clinton’s nominees simply by not letting them get out of committee. A rule change, they say, would grind Senate business on other matters to a halt.

Democrats call the rule change the “nuclear option,” Republicans call it the “constitutional option.”

A rule change could have an even greater impact when the next opening on the Supreme Court occurs. Many observers believe that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who is battling thyroid cancer, will retire soon.

Earlier this month Sen. George Allen, R.-Va., said that a rule change vote would best be done in April.

“We need to have a vote in April, and it needs to be forced,” he told Pat Robertson in an interview. “And I know the Senate loves to talk endlessly, stay in the tall grass. But you have to force them to vote, and we have to bring them to a vote this month, in my view, on some of these appellate judges. Because, if you wait around and go through the whole summer, and there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the whole debate will be on process, which they worship in Washington, rather than the merits of the individual who may be nominated by the president.”

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