Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Frist Attacks Democrats on Christian Broadcast

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky -- Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist delivered a taped speech Sunday to a nationwide broadcast in which Christian conservatives, during other segments, attacked Democratic senators for blocking judicial nominees described in the program as "people of faith."

Frist, a Republican from Tennessee, avoided religious references in his six-minute video for "Justice Sunday," which sponsors said reached 61 million households. The telecast drew criticism from Democrats and some religious groups who said it inappropriately injected religion into a heated debate over the filibustering of some of President George W. Bush's most conservative court nominees.

Frist urged Democrats to end the delays and allow up-or-down votes on the stalled nominees. "Emotions are running high on both sides, and it reveals once again our country's desperate need for more civility in political life," he said in his taped message, part of the program simulcast to churches, homes and organizations from a 6,000-member Baptist church east of Louisville.

Tensions are rising in the Senate over filibusters of judicial nominees. Frist has called the filibusters intolerable, saying they prevent senators from giving the president the "advice and consent" called for in the Constitution. Frist, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid, is threatening to change Senate rules to ban filibusters of judicial nominees. Democrats say they would retaliate by bringing most Senate business to a halt.

Democrats and liberal religious groups said Frist should have played no role in the heavily promoted broadcast. "Senator Frist's words today were less important than his giving the imprimatur to this conference, which clearly argues that people of one viewpoint have God on their side and all others are faithless," said Senator Charles Schumer. "This will only make his job as Senate leader more difficult."

"I think Senator Frist may have made as big a strategic political blunder in embracing Justice Sunday as he did in the Terri Schiavo case," said the Reverend Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He was referring to Congress' effort to intercede in a brain-damaged Florida woman's case, which polls showed to be unpopular.

Democrats have used the filibuster -- which can be stopped with 60 votes in the 100-member Senate -- to block confirmation votes for 10 of Bush's appellate court nominees. Democrats say the 10 are outside the political mainstream. Bush renominated seven of them this year; Democrats have vowed to filibuster them again, and Frist's party, which holds 55 Senate seats, does not have the votes to stop them.

The philosophies and inclinations of federal judges have become increasingly vital to activist groups on the left and right. They see the courts as crucial arbiters in topics such as abortion, same-sex marriage, school prayer, gun rights and scores of other matters.