But the Senate majority leader softened the GOP rhetoric on activist judges.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday it was not "radical" to ask senators to vote on judicial nominees as he hardened his effort to strip Democrats of their power to stall President Bush's picks for the federal court.
Frist, speaking at an event organized by Christian groups trying to rally churchgoers to support an end to judicial filibusters, also said judges deserve "respect, not retaliation," no matter how they rule.
A potential presidential candidate in 2008, the Tennessee Republican made no overt mention of religion in the brief address, according to a text of his videotaped remarks released before the event in Louisville, Ky.
Instead, Frist seemed intent on steering clear of the views expressed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, and other conservatives who have urged investigations and even possible impeachment of judges they describe as activists.
"Our judiciary must be independent, impartial and fair," Frist said.
"When we think judicial decisions are outside mainstream American values, we will say so. But we must also be clear that the balance of power among all three branches requires respect -- not retaliation. I won't go along with that," Frist said.
For months, Frist has threatened to take action that would shut down the Democrats' practice of subjecting a small number of judicial appointees to filibusters. Barring a last-minute compromise, a showdown is expected this spring or summer.
"I don't think it's radical to ask senators to vote. I don't think it's radical to expect senators to fulfill their constitutional responsibilities," said Frist, whom Democrats have accused of engaging in "radical Republican" politics.
While a majority of the Senate is sufficient to confirm a judge, it takes 60 votes under Senate rules to overcome a filibuster and force a final vote.
Rather than change the rules directly, Frist and other Republicans have threatened to seek an internal Senate ruling that would declare that filibusters are not permitted against judicial nominees.
Because such a ruling can be enforced by majority vote, and Republicans have 55 seats in the 100-member Senate, GOP leaders have said they expect to prevail if they put the issue to the test.
Republicans pushed two of the nominees -- including Texas Supreme Court Judge Priscilla Owen -- from the Senate Judiciary Committee last week on party-line votes.
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