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For now, neither party really wants to be here, and apparently not many Americans want to either. In a new TIME poll, close to 40% of respondents said courts have too much power, but almost 60% said the judicial filibuster should not be eliminated. Nevertheless, activists like Scarborough are on a mission to give "courage" to G.O.P. Senators like John McCain, Olympia Snowe and Lincoln Chafee, who are against changing Senate rules. Senator Susan Collins has been the target of TV ads in her home state of Maine, and her office has been deluged with thousands of calls on the issue. Much of the direction for the antifilibuster campaign has come from the Arlington Group, a loose coalition of religious-right leaders that includes Scarborough, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Richard Land of the Southern Baptists.
Frist's chief of staff, Eric Ueland, insists the idea that the filibuster fracas is tied to pressure from the religious right is "wrong-headed speculation." But last week, after a series of attempts at a deal with Democrats to allow votes on just a few of Bush's nominees fell apart, Frist staff members held a conference call with leaders of the Christian right to allay concerns that the majority leader might be losing the stomach for the fight. Given his well-known ambitions to run for President in 2008, Frist has to be especially careful not to alienate the evangelical supporters he will surely need. His counterpart, Senate minority leader Harry Reid, of course has his liberal groups, like People for the American Way, holding his feet to the fire; their barrage of TV ads has even targeted moderate Republicans like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania.
Dealing with nominations is only part of the Christian right's growing judicial reform agenda. Some House conservatives have talked openly about effectively shutting down certain courts and judges by tightening the judiciary's purse strings. House Judiciary Committee chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. recently floated the idea of establishing an inspector general for the federal judiciary to monitor how money is being spent. He also repeated his support for a House measure that would divide into three separate circuits the San Francisco-- based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, derided by conservatives for decisions like its 2002 ruling that the words "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional.
Over the past year, other House members have introduced bills to remove the federal courts' jurisdiction over certain hot-button issues, such as school prayer and gay marriage, putting such matters in the hands of state and local judges who are often elected and can be held accountable. In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed capital punishment for juveniles--one of the cases that has caused some activists to call for Justice Anthony Kennedy's impeachment--some members have pushed for legislation forbidding federal judges to base their rulings on foreign cases. "In terms of the relationship between the judiciary and the Congress, this is the most poisonous atmosphere in some 40 years," says Stephen Burbank, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.