Saturday, April 16, 2005

The Religious Right and Filibusters

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 a 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 "war 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."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Darrell,

I wondered how you were going to react to this thing. I understand that Mohler - is that the correct spelling - is participating, the event being staged in Louisville, and I know you to be fond of him.

While I have no objection to the participation of religious people in the civic life of America, I do object to their being transmogrified in the process from that, religious people, into an interest group complete with ward leaders on the order of Perkins, Bauer, Dobson and Colson. Here in Ohio this process has gotten quite far along with Rod Parsley, the pastor of an enormous congregation of Pentacostals in Columbus, and other big players prepared to organize their followers into knee-jerk responses to whatever the perceived issue-of-the-moment might be. How might we style such a phenomema, "Beer-Hall Christianity"? I would add that the next step might be the creation of some type of paramilitary organization to protect public events of this kind and to silence opposition but Paul Craig Roberts and others already have spoken to the existence of germinal events along these lines. How sad to see this trivialization of the lives of so many very holy persons. This God and Country kind of sanctity might feel good but it has all of the earmarks of the pseudo-religion of dialectically grounded radicalisms, all of the substitution of public morality for private and the like. Don't count on a change of direction here. These folks sense blood in the water.

Yours In The Holy Trinity,

John Lowell

12:19 PM  
Blogger Darrell said...


I think that the church must, in some measure, be involved in civic life. Who else is to be the conscience of the culture? But you are on the money when you say that the church has itself to the status of an interest group.

My other concern is the way they engage debate. The filibuster issue is one rank with hypocrisy on both sides. Personally, as I have written, I think limitations and checks on democratic impulses are overall a plus, not something to be trifled with and removed simply because they might be abused.

I may yet write a post about Parsley. Last night was his "kick off" event and I see that he has been called by God to lead the moral reformation of the country.

Mohler specifically disappoints me here. I have actually been critical of Mohler in the past (see and especially on foreign policy, but I find it difficult to believe that he is getting involved in this nonsense. In fact, Highview Baptist, where the event will take place, is Mohler's church.

Hey, John, I don't see any Catholics on the bill to speak that night. Are all of you so anti-American that you aren't worked up about the filibuster? :)

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Darrell,

I see that I managed to misspell Pentecostal at the last opportunity. I miss much these days. :-(

Beside Parsley, I don't remember the names of the people, but I read a thoroughly hatefilled NYT article very recently concerning this effort in Ohio to bring pressure-group religion to the state. It doesn't break my heart to see homosexual marriage or infanticide quashed in Ohio, but something very important is being lost to Evangelicals with campaigns of this kind. They've gotten down into the sewer both with those that appear to be their political friends and their opponents, and seem to have placed a very high value on power. One wonders with campaigns of this kind about the importance to them of St. Paul's assertion - and him hardly a slouch when it came to impact - that we are made strong in weakness.

As to there being no Catholics at this event, take heart, Darrell. Deal Hudson has agreed to sign on if only Dobson and Bauer will assure him of their support in his bid for appointment as emisary to the Vatican. I jest, of course.

In Christ,

John Lowell

11:37 AM  

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