By RICHARD POWELSON
Scripps Howard News Service
April 28, 2005
"What is involved here is a power grab," Gore told about 500 activists connected to the MoveOn PAC organization. "They want to establish a system in which power is unified in the service of a narrow ideology serving a narrow set of interests."
The speech was aimed at fueling national opposition to the Senate Republican leadership trying to win quick approval for seven of President Bush's judicial nominees that Democrats blocked in the last Congress.
If Democrats do not allow quick votes - and agree not to stall them with unlimited debate - Senate GOP leader Bill Frist of Tennessee has threatened to try to change Senate rules to prevent filibusters on judicial nominations. Republicans control 55 of the Senate's 100 seats.
Gore directed pointed criticism at Frist, saying the Republican's plan to change longtime rules and end sometimes lengthy debate on judges is "a poison pill for America's democracy. (It) would substitute persuasion on the merits with bullying and an effort at partisan domination."
Frist spokesman Nick Smith said the speech by Gore, a former senator from Tennessee, showed that his "slide to the left continues."
"I don't recall Al Gore showing the same indignation when his own party proposed eliminating both the judicial and legislative filibusters in 1995," Smith said.
Democratic and Republican senators have been trading allegations for months about which party stalled more judicial nominees in the past.
Gore said Democrats have helped confirm 205 of Bush's judicial nominees, or "over 95 percent." Republicans blocked 60 of President Bill Clinton's nominees from 1995 to 2000, Gore said, while Republicans are complaining of Democrats holding up 10 Bush nominees.
The Family Research Council, Gore said, is among the "extremist organizations" threatening the independence of the federal courts. Gore quoted the council's president, Tony Perkins, as saying some courts making rulings allegedly out of step with America could be cut off from federal funding.
Perkins responded later: "Al Gore and some of the Democratic Senators made this debate about religion. We didn't. 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."
Frist's staff has said that changing the rules for conducting filibusters would be similar to what then-Senate Democratic leader Robert Byrd of West Virginia did in the 1970s and 1980s.
The current rule is that senators may debate any nominee or bill for an unlimited time unless 60 or more of the senators vote to end debate. Frist's proposal could allow a simple majority - 51 senators - to end debate on judicial nominees.
Gore recalled the 2000 presidential election, when the Supreme Court in effect deemed Bush the winner over Gore by ending the Florida recount.
Gore said he and the country respected the Supreme Court's authority. But had the high court been dominated by judges rammed through the Senate without adequate bipartisan support, Gore said, "then no speech imaginable could have calmed the passions aroused in our country."