Mr. Smith Goes Back to Washington


Contact: Nick Berning or Josh Glasstetter at People For the American Way Foundation

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Famous Film Filibuster Invoked to Save the Real Thing in Multi-Million-Dollar Ad Campaign

The legendary image of Senator Jefferson Smith launching a film filibuster in the U.S. Senate opens a multi-million-dollar ad campaign aimed at saving the real thing – a crucial element of the Senate’s more than 200-year old system of checks and balances.

The ad features clips of the idealistic Senator Smith from the 1939 patriotic classic, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The ad stars real-life firefighter Ted Nonini, a “common-sense” Republican who supports the filibuster as a means to make sure minority opinions are protected – no matter which party is in power.

“America works best when no one party has absolute power. It’s just common sense,” Nonini says in the ad.

Launching today on national cable and in six states with Republican senators whose votes will be pivotal, the ad is sponsored by People For the American Way Foundation, a national civil rights and constitutional liberties organization with more than 750,000 members and supporters nationwide. The ad was the brainchild of famed TV producer Norman Lear, one of the founders of the organization. The ad rollout is part of a $5 million advertising and organizing campaign that will expand to 18 states over the next few weeks, and will be accompanied by online and print ads in several markets.

“Mr. Smith is a symbol of timeless American values that belong to no one political party: honesty, love of country, and the courage to stand up for what’s right in the face of overwhelming odds,” said Lear. “Mr. Smith celebrated the wisdom of the founding fathers and the system of checks and balances they put in place. We need that reminder today.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is threatening to deploy in April the so-called “nuclear option” – a parliamentary trick that would break Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations. To succeed, his scheme would need the backing of 50 senators. People For the American Way Foundation’s ad is part of a broader effort to reach out to Republican senators who understand that Frist’s plan would do long-term damage to the Senate and to basic democratic principles.

“We need at least six Republican Senators to place principle over partisan politics,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “Right now, the vote is too close to call. But I am convinced that a bipartisan majority in the Senate will reject this attack on the basic constitutional principle of checks and balances.”

Under current Senate rules, the votes of 60 or more senators are required to end a filibuster and bring debate on a controversial judicial nomination to a close. If Frist succeeds with his plan, just 50 Senators and the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney would be enough to confirm any nominee, no matter how controversial, and no matter what objections were raised. Neas said Frist’s plan would eliminate the only incentive for bipartisan consultation and compromise on important issues, such as the confirmation of judges to powerful lifetime seats on the federal courts.

“America is better off with judges who Americans of every political stripe can trust to be fair and uphold constitutional rights,” said Neas. “We should be encouraging more, not less, bipartisanship and consensus.”

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