11/29/2004

Courts first to go in right-wing revolution

Every time the so-called Christian Right has tried to turn this country into a theocracy, those pesky federal courts have stymied things.

So now — according to the liberal Americans United for Separation of Church and State — the right-wingers have come up with a new scheme. All they plan to do is to strip the federal judges of their right to hear cases involving the separation of church and state.

Reportedly, such leaders as the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Republican Rep. John Hostettler of Indiana, flush with what they see as a successful right-wing revolution, believe they can make the federal courts virtually powerless.

Rep. Hostettler, addressing a special legislative briefing of the Christian Coalition last month in Washington, reportedly talked at length about a bill he plans to introduce. It would deny federal courts the right to hear cases challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, which bans same-sex marriage.

"Congress controls the federal judiciary," Rep. Hostettler was quoted as saying. "If Congress wants to, it can refer all cases to the state courts. Congress can say the federal courts have limited power to enforce their decision."

Apparently, the Hoosier congressman has not heard of the balance of power among the three arms of our government. He was quoted as telling the Christian Coalition members:

"When the courts make unconstitutional decisions, we should not enforce them. Federal courts have no army or navy... The court can opine, decide, talk about, sing, whatever it wants to do. We're not saying they can't do that. At the end of the day, we're saying the court can't enforce its opinions."

Another congressman, Alabama Republican Robert Aderholdt, was quoted as advocating court stripping as a means to protect state-sponsored Ten Commandment displays, such as the one erected by former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

And then there was Sheila Cole, executive director of the Republican Study Committee, a group of ultra-conservative House members. She said federal judges who refuse to listen to Congress might well be impeached.

Others in attendance at the session called for more direct action to render the federal courts powerless. During a question-and-answer period, a member reportedly said that in such cases as the Ten Commandments display, people should form a human barrier, if neccessary, to prevent removal.

Rep. Hostettler apparently liked that idea. In such a case, he allegedly said, federal marshals would have to be called out.

"If the president does that," he was quoted as saying, "who will have a say in the next presidential election?"

The Rev. Falwell spoke of what he called an evangelical awakening sweeping this nation, and boasted that the Religious Right now controls the Republican Party, according to Americans United.

Many of the legal scholars consulted by Americans United said the court-stripping scheme was of dubious legality. Michael Gerhardt, a professor at William & Mary Law School, testified before Congress twice recently, arguing that the plan violates the U.S. Constitution.

Constitutional or not, the scary part of all this is realizing how dizzy success has made these people. A week or two after the presidential election, I happened to tune in to the Rev. Pat Robertson's program. He was chortling and practically jumping up and down with elation.

He kept saying what a great opportunity the Christian Right now had to change the nation.

Courts first to go in right-wing revolution

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