The campaign for Senate confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees got serious Sunday. God took a hand.
What kind of hand we can't tell, of course, given the Lord's engaging propensity to move in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. Still, the Family Research Council's "Justice Sunday" telecast-cum-rally, featuring Senate majority leader Bill Frist and broadcast potentially to millions of church-goers, was by any reckoning an event. The organizers hope, by mobilizing evangelical Christians, to deter Democrats from blocking conservative judicial nominees via filibuster.
The Democrats fired back: Nothing less, they urged, than the right of free speech hangs in the balance as Republicans maneuver to gag inconvenient minorities seeking to air urgent matters. A liberal evangelical, Jim Wallis, called "Justice Sunday" "an attempt to hijack religion."
"What goes on here?" is an entirely fair question, except that, in the big picture, only God Himself knows. In the smaller picture, what goes on is the working out of ... Brown v. Board of Education.
You didn't expect to hear that, did you? You expected to hear Roe v. Wade, which proclaimed, as we all know, a constitutionally protected right to abortion. Why Brown v. Board of Education, which proclaimed the constitutional duty to abolish public school segregation? Because Brown marked the first big occasion when Americans ceded power to the federal courts to patrol their nation's moral perimeter, a job previously reserved for the states.
Integration, because of the fervent and righteous support it came to enjoy, opened the door for the U.S. Supreme Court to federalize abortion questions, as earlier it had federalized race relations. That's where we segue into the filibuster question: Should Democrats, or shouldn't they, block the seating of judges viewed -- here's what it comes down to -- as likely to overturn Roe v. Wade and perhaps also to deny the asserted right to gay marriage?
Of course they should, you're likely to say, if you're a Democratic senator dependent on the abortion and gay rights lobbies. Of course they shouldn't, you're likely to say, if you're a Republican senator dependent on pro-life and evangelical votes.
That way of putting things seems to make no room for earnest, unpolitically related convictions on either side. I don't mean that. I mean anyone can play for high reasons or low ones the game of moral politics -- a game whose stakes increase as our collective dependence on the federal courts increases.