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Gore Criticizes Republicans on Filibuster Issue

Times Staff Writer

Former Vice President Al Gore entered the debate over judicial filibusters Wednesday, accusing Republican senators of being in thrall to religious zealots and damaging American democracy “in order to satisfy their lust for one-party domination of all three branches of government.”

“Their grand design is an all-powerful executive using a weakened legislature to fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image,” Gore told an audience of 700 Democratic activists from MoveOn.org’s political action committee.

Gore’s speech was the headline event in a series of rallies organized by MoveOn, a liberal organization that uses the Internet to encourage political activism.

The group said it held 190 rallies Wednesday, in all 50 states, opposing Republican plans to seek a Senate rules change to forbid the use of the filibuster for judicial nominations.

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Gore, who in 2000 lost the presidency to George W. Bush in an election that ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court, accused Republicans of unwisely mixing religion with politics.

“Long before our founders met in Philadelphia, their forbears and ours first came to these shores to escape oppression at the hands of despots in the Old World who mixed religion with politics and claimed dominion over both their pocketbooks and their souls,” Gore said.

To lengthy applause, he added: “This aggressive new strain of right-wing religious zealotry is actually a throwback to the intolerance that led to the creation of America in the first place.”

During Bush’s first term, the Senate confirmed 205 judicial nominees, but the Democrats threatened to filibuster 10 appellate court nominees whom they considered extremists. Sixty votes are needed to halt a filibuster, a figure that, even with GOP gains in the 2004 election, is short of the Republican majority in the Senate.

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Seven of those blocked nominations were resubmitted this year, and a showdown over the filibuster is expected soon as they are voted out of committee for confirmation by the full Senate.

Gore’s remarks came three days after Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) took part, via videotape, in a nationwide simulcast sponsored by conservative Christian activists calling for an end to Democratic filibusters “against people of faith.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative advocacy group whose political action arm sponsored Sunday’s simulcast, responded angrily to Gore’s remarks.

“Al Gore and some of the Democratic senators made this debate about religion; we didn’t,” he said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, it is clear from Al Gore’s comments that he is the one that wants to exclude people from the public square based upon some religious litmus test. All Americans have a voice in our system of government. We are supporting the American way -- discuss, debate and decide, not flip-flop and filibuster.”

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In his remarks, Gore argued that the founders sought a clear delineation between religious practice and public law. He cited a passage from the Declaration of Independence stating that “men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”

“But while our rights come from God, as our founders added, ‘governments are instituted among men, deriving their just power from the consent of the governed,’ ” Gore said. “So, unlike our inalienable rights, our laws are human creations that derive their moral authority from our consent to their enactment.”

In recent weeks, the battle over the filibuster has moved beyond the Senate chamber, as liberals and conservatives work to influence public opinion and sway uncommitted senators to their point of view.

Gore, like many liberals, argued that altering the filibuster rules would remove an important check and balance between the two branches of Congress and the three branches of government.

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“The Senate’s tradition of unlimited debate has been a secret weapon in our nation’s arsenal of democracy,” he said. “It has frequently served to push the Senate and the nation as a whole toward a compromise between conflicting points of view.”

Gore also warned Republicans against the dangers of court-packing, saying a drive by Republicans to put more conservative judges on the federal courts could lead to a loss of judicial independence that would undermine decisions they value. He cited the Supreme Court decision in the contested 2000 election as an example.

“Having gone through that experience, I can tell you without any doubt whatsoever that if the justices who formed the majority in Bush v. Gore had not only all been nominated to the court by a Republican president, but had also been all confirmed by only Republican senators in party-line votes, America would not have accepted that court’s decision,” Gore said.

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Times staff writer Ronald Brownstein contributed to this report.


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