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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Activist Judges Indeed

There’s been plenty of commentary about the Hysterithon pitched by the Family Research Council and various other Christian Right groups yesterday, dubbed “Justice Sunday” and indecently dignified by the boss of the United States Senate, Bill Frist (R-TN). I’ll limit myself to one simple point, playing off a CNN quote/paraphrase from FRC chief Tony Perkins:

FRC President Tony Perkins said Democrats were using filibusters to exclude religious believers from the bench. Holding up a Bible, he told the audience, “What we are saying tonight is that as American citizens, we should not have to choose between believing what is in this book and serving the public.”

Now think about that observation for a moment. Perkins surely does not actually contend that “religious believers” have been or are being excluded from the judicial branch of government, does he? I’m reasonably certain a majority of judges, like a majority of Americans, a majority of Democrats, and a majority of Democratic elected officials, are in their own view “religious believers.” Is Perkins setting himself up to judge (if you will pardon the expression) what is and is not authentic religious belief? Or is he rather arguing that certain kinds of religious believers are being excluded, and if so, who are they?The “choose between this book and serving the public” bit, which is also featured in the self-pity-soaked ad campaign set up for “Justice Sunday,” makes it clear the “excluded” are those who believe a literal interpretation of Holy Scripture is directly relevant to judicial rulings.At least back when I went to law school, the “public service” rendered by judges, depending on the case and his or her role in the system, was to find facts and interpret and apply laws as set out in the U.S. or state Constitutions, federal or state statutues, or decades if not centuries of common law. “Believing what is in” the Bible, and certainly believing Tony Perkins’ interpretation of what is in the Bible, might have some impact on the character of the judge, but anyone elevating it above actual secular law is generally violating an oath, often sworn on that selfsame Bible. So sounds to me like ol’ Tony is demanding activist judges who will ride roughshod over the law, over precedent, over constitutions and democratically elected legislatures, to do what ol’ Tony believes God has instructed them to do. Just as his buddy Tom DeLay thinks ethics rules don’t apply to “our team,” Perkins seems to think the rule of law doesn’t apply to “our judges.” Amazing, ain’t it?

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