Ever since he witnessed an AIDS-awareness presentation at a Houston-area high school that went into explicit detail about how condoms could prevent the spread of the disease, the Rev. Rick Scarborough has been the kind of dedicated activist the G.O.P. has to thank for much of its current dominance. Since that day in 1992, Scarborough, 55, has believed that "Christians have a moral responsibility in this country to be involved in politics." For most of the past decade, the outspoken Baptist minister from Texas has used his pulpit to help elect conservative judges and politicians. Along the way, his organization, Vision America, has recruited 3,000 to 4,000 "patriot pastors" in parts of the South and Midwest to help get out the evangelical-Christian vote.
That turned out to be such a success that Scarborough has turned his focus to the one branch of the Federal Government that Republicans don't fully control: the judiciary. Although seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices were appointed by Republicans, and G.O.P. appointees account for the majority of judges on 10 of the 13 federal appeals courts, Scarborough and others believe the bench is the last bastion of liberalism. Like so many of his preaching peers--from D. James Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Rod Parsley near Columbus, Ohio--Scarborough believes that "activist" judges have imposed their personal beliefs by creating new rights on abortion, gay marriage and pornography that aren't expressly stated in the Constitution. They say those same judges have also restricted freedom of religion by, for example, ordering the removal of a Ten Commandments monument from the grounds of the Alabama state supreme court. Last week's federal-court decision overturning Nebraska's gay-marriage ban has only added fuel to the right's fire. Thus, Scarborough is spending most of his time these days working to beat back Democrats' attempts to block several of President Bush's judicial nominees. "It takes two-thirds of Congress, the President's signature and three-fourths of the states to change the Constitution--or one judge," says Scarborough, sitting beneath the mounted head of a whitetail deer in his east Texas office. "And believe me, the left learned that a long time ago."
But for all the value of evangelical activists to the G.O.P., this may be a moment when their conviction is as much a headache as a help. They are refusing to accept anything but total victory--namely, up or down majority votes in the Senate for all the nominees, which would almost certainly guarantee their confirmation. That position is making it very difficult for the two parties to achieve a face-saving compromise. Unless Democrats agree to allow floor votes on all the White House's nominees, Senate majority leader Bill Frist has threatened to use the Republican majority to prohibit judicial filibusters.
Often referred to as the "nuclear option," the move would change a Senate tradition that lets the minority party drag on debate unless the majority can muster 60 votes to stop it. In response, Democrats, who point out that Republicans used other procedural tricks to block more of President Bill Clinton's judicial nominees than Democrats have blocked of Bush's, have vowed to tie up the Senate in other ways. The Senate could be headed for this historic showdown in part because it anticipates an inevitable one down the line: a full-blown confirmation brawl over the next Supreme Court nominee.