Frist's Message of Divisiveness

Yesterday was the much anticipated "Justice Sunday," the offensive event sponsored by right-wing religious groups willing to pervert their religion for misbegotten political purposes. Though hundreds of religious leaders, even his own reverend, implored Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) to reconsider his participation in the event or "use that opportunity to repudiate the message of divisiveness and religious manipulation that is at the core of the gathering," Sen. Frist did neither. Instead, Frist joined the festivities through a videotaped statement -- a "stunt that in itself [imbued] 'Justice Sunday' with a touch of all-American spectacle worthy of 'The Wizard of Oz'" -- and "stepped up his threats to change Senate rules ... while simultaneously calling for 'more civility in political life.'"

At the beginning of the event, Family Research Council President and event organizer Tony Perkins stated, "We are not saying that people who disagree with us are not people of faith." However, the flier promoting the event read, "The Filibuster against People of Faith: The filibuster was once abused to protect racial bias, and it is now being used against people of faith." This was not the only attempt to rewrite history during the telecast. In denouncing the filibuster, Frist claimed, "I don't think it's radical to ask senators to vote.... I don't think it's radical to restore precedents that worked so well for 214 years." In 2000, Frist was among a group of conservatives who voted to filibuster an appeals court judge nominated by then-President Clinton, because he had already decided Judge Richard Paez was "out of the mainstream of political thought and ... should [not] be on the court."

Sen. Frist shied away from attacks on the judiciary by saying, "When we think judicial decisions are outside mainstream American values, we will say so ... the balance of power among all three branches requires respect -- not retaliation. I won't go along with that." Frist may claim not to go along with it, but a man is often judged by the company he keeps. Focus on the Family's Chairman James Dobson -- who also participated in the event -- recently compared the Supreme Court to the KKK, chided the Court's majority as "unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they're out of control." Furthermore, both Dobson and Perkins have been caught plotting how to undermine judges with whom they disagree.

Though Frist "neither referred to religious faith nor addressed criticism that the event was inappropriately dragging religion into a partisan battle," he did take a step out there and "singled out Judge Priscilla Owen, one of the blocked appeals court nominees, for praise in the telecast." This specific mention of Owen is seen as "suggesting she may become the contested nominee at the focus of the looming showdown." For all the conservative talk against judicial activism, Frist should know that Owen has a long record of extremist decisions such that then colleague and Texas Supreme Court Justice Alberto Gonzales went so far as to describe one of her decisions as "an unconscionable act of judicial activism."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who is an opponent of doing away with the democratic right to a filibuster, put it best when he said: "It's not called 'nuclear' for nothing." The catastrophic consequences that can result from silencing the minority fly in the face of Senate tradition and undermine the essence of democracy. Now conservatives are trying to change the terminology so that their reckless plan does not sound as bad. As recently as November of last year, Sen. Frist (R-TN) was calling the move "the nuclear option," but as of late he says that is a term used by his opponents. Conservatives have tried the terms "constitutional option" and "fairness option" on for size, but now they are trying to incorporate name smears into the latest lexicon. Yesterday on Face the Nation, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) insisted on calling the plan "the Byrd option," pushing the false claims that Sen. Byrd (D-WV) employed such a dangerous tactic. (Today the Center for American Progress is hosting an event featuring Sen. Byrd (D-WV) to discuss the role of the filibuster in protecting minority rights and providing an effective counterweight to presidential power.)


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