As noted, the nuclear option championed by GOP leaders is a parliamentary power play that would abuse the power of the majority, break Senate rules in order to re-write them, and eliminate the ability of Democratic Senators to block extremist nominees through a Senate filibuster. Urged on by right-wing pundits and radical right leaders like Pat Robertson and James Dobson, Senator Frist is planning a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the filibuster even before any Supreme Court vacancy or nomination. News reports indicate this strike could come as soon as February. If Frist and his allies are successful at mustering the support of 50 Senators for this option, the ability of Senators to prevent the confirmation of ultra-conservative Supreme Court nominees would be radically diminished.
Fortunately, a number of moderate and conservative Republican Senators have strong doubts about the wisdom of the nuclear option and what its proponents’ “end justifies the means” rationale would mean for the future of the Senate. Some have expressed outright opposition, while others have signaled their concerns more quietly. But they will all be under enormous pressure from their leadership and right-wing pressure groups. No vote can be taken for granted.
Last week, PFAW and thousands of its members and allies launched a national effort to protect Senators’ ability to use the filibuster to pressure President Bush to engage in the kind of genuine bipartisan consultation and compromise that would result in more moderate nominees that could win broad support. The campaign will focus attention on key Republican and Democratic Senators who could provide crucial votes to defend the Senate’s constitutional role in the evaluation and confirmation of judicial nominees, and in defeating efforts to “nuke” an important element of our system of checks and balances.
Members of our field staff are working with our partners to organize coalitions of local organizations. Our communications staff are reaching out to reporters, columnists, and editors in the targeted states with information about the importance of their Senators in this battle. We are also considering print, radio, and TV ads in key states.
We have also launched an on-line petition campaign that gathered more than 40,000 signatures in the first several days, with momentum picking up as more organizations and activists forward the petition to members, friends, and colleagues.
In conjunction with Working Assets and other allies, PFAW’s field department has begun the process of organizing dozens of in-state meetings with Senators during the February congressional recess concerning upcoming nominations and the filibuster issue. In preparation for these meetings we will be assembling talking points, organizing guides and holding conference call trainings for the local activists who will be leading the in-state lobbying teams and for the members of the team.
In addition, PFAW has outfitted its 2500-square-foot conference room as a “nerve center” with dozens of computers, database technology, and telephones that can handle 50 volunteers supplementing staff efforts. It is ready to go. In fact, we are already recruiting and scheduling volunteer nights for DC-area activists to begin calling into the “nuclear option” target states. Importantly, the nerve center will be available to support collaborative outreach efforts by coalition partners. It will serve as a clearinghouse to help track and coordinate the activities of the hundreds of organizations that will be engaged in the efforts to save the judiciary and be a repository of relevant information available to everyone in the coalition.
For the past several years, we have been committed with our partners to organizing and supporting on-the-ground events to educate people about how much is at stake, and to mobilize involvement in efforts to protect the filibuster and oppose dangerous judiciary nominees. Over the past ten days, hundreds of progressive activists attended one of several events organized around judicial issues, including a Los Angeles luncheon on the future of the Supreme Court on Jan. 19, a counter-inaugural Spirit of Liberty luncheon in San Francisco on Jan. 20, and a luncheon hosted by Working Assets in San Francisco on Jan. 21.
In addition, People For the American Way Foundation kicked off the Young People For leadership development project with its first-ever summit of college-age Young People For Fellows in Washington D.C. over Martin Luther King Day weekend. The future of the Supreme Court was among the areas explored by these outstanding young activists.
PFAW and PFAW Foundation are supporting coalition message testing and research as well as investing in their own focus group and survey research, which will be used to refine communications and outreach efforts.