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Bringing the case against judges

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The coalition has backing from members in both houses of Congress, including House majority leader Tom DeLay (R) of Texas. Mr. DeLay addressed Friday's meeting via video, telling the group that the "judiciary has run amok" and that "Congress needs to reassert its authority."

Concerns about the judiciary are simmering on several fronts at once. Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R) of Tennessee, who is trying to keep the focus on judicial nominations, responded to DeLay's statements saying, "We have a fair and independent judiciary today."

Dr. Frist is fighting for his own controversial plan - dubbed the nuclear option - to end the Senate filibuster so that Democrats can't block votes on judicial nominees.

Countering Frist's initiative is the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary - an alliance of human rights and civil liberties groups - which is mounting a public advertising campaign to save the filibuster and keep extreme right-wing nominees off the federal bench.

The one point on which conservatives and liberals tend to agree is that in a fight over the judiciary the stakes are huge.

"The future of the judiciary is perhaps the most important domestic priority facing the country at this time," says Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way. Speaking to reporters on a conference call last week, CFIJ leaders worried that conservatives were seeking total governmental control.

"This president has the executive branch, the Republican Party has the legislative branch, and they aren't satisfied; they want the crown jewel of our democracy, and that is a fair and independent judiciary," says Nan Aron, head of the Alliance for Justice.

The new religious coalition strongly backs Frist's filibuster fight, but sees its effort in bigger and broader terms.

Pointing to the statement in the Declaration of Independence that the Creator is the source of inalienable rights, they say the US Constitution has a biblical basis and charge that the federal courts are seeking to turn America into a secular humanist nation by removing all mention of God from public life. In response, they assert the right to acknowledge God in various ways, from creationism and prayer in the schools to religious symbols in the public square.

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