Where the World's Views of America Come into Focus
May 3, 2005
By Pascal Rische, Correspondent in Washington
It's high season on judges! Since the induced death of Terri Schiavo, an American woman that was in a vegetative state for fifteen years, the Christian right has been hunting the judiciary, which it considers responsible for all the country's ills. It is, in effect, judges who decided to unplug "Terri," against the opinion of the legislative branch and President Bush. It is judges who last year authorized homosexuals to marry in Massachusetts. It is judges, those on the Supreme Court, who banned the anti-gay laws of the southern states. Or, more recently, abolished the death penalty for minors.
A vast campaign is being pursued in an attempt to put justice back on the right track, that is to say the "Right's" track. For the last month, not a week has passed without a new attack. In Congress, Tom DeLay, the Republican leader of the House of Representatives, confirmed that judges have run amok. He requested measures to limit the influence of an "out-of-control activist judicial body."
During this time, in the Senate, the Republicans are thinking about banning the use of the filibuster during the confirmation of the nomination of federal judges. The filibuster is a right given to the Senate minority to carry on an indefinite debate, which gives them the power to block through obstruction. This strategy was immortalized by the Frank Capra film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939), in which the hero, played by James Stewart, reads a speech until he is physically exhausted to prevent a vote on a villainous law.
Already on ten occasions, the Democrats have used this procedure to block the nomination of reactionary judges chosen by Bush. During a press conference last week, the president spoke out against these obstructions: "I certainly hope my nominees get an up-or-down vote on the floor of the Senate." He did not, however, openly attack the right to use the filibuster. The debate is raging, and everyone if taking sides. The Democrats, supported by left-wing organizations (Moveon.org, People for the American Way...), are organizing demonstrations denouncing an attempt to suppress a valuable democratic mechanism that protects the minority. On the right, Christian organizations (Focus on the Family, Family Research Council...) have thrown themselves into the anti-judge campaign.
The Republicans aren't hesitating to draw support from Churches. A week ago, a video made by Bill Frist, the Republican leader in the Senate, was broadcast in a Baptist "mega-church" in Louisville, Kentucky. On a giant screen, Frist called on his flock to phone their members of Congress to put pressure on Democrats tempted to use obstruction [the filibuster]. According to him, these Democrats are organizing "attacks against people of faith." The defenders of the separation of Church and State are outraged by such a mix. Questioned on the subject at his press conference, Bush distanced himself from Frist to lower the tension a bit.
The Supreme Court, which is hardly a bastion of American leftism, is also involved. One of its nine judges, Anthony Kennedy, appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1988, is in the sights of the Right. The last straw was in March, when he voted with the four most progressive judges to banish the death penalty for minors. The aggravating factor: in his argument, he drew from "international standards," which the incredible Tom DeLay considered "scandalous."
During a conference organized last month in Washington on the theme, "Remedies to Judicial Tyranny," Kennedy was the target of repeated public attacks. Certain speakers called for him to be impeached. One of them, Edwin Vieira, even denounced his "Marxist, Leninist, Satanic principles drawn from foreign law."
Each side is now preparing itself for the next likely battle, which will probably be fought over the replacement of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, William Rehnquist, who is 80-years-old and battling thyroid cancer.—C-Span Video: Tom DeLay, Republican Majority Leader, Speaks to the National Rifle Association Convention, Apr. 14, 00:20:24