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Frist Rallies Filibuster Foes

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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said 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 George W. 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 candidate for the White House in 2008, the Tennessee Republican made no overt mention of religion in the brief address, according to his videotaped remarks played on giant television screens to an audience estimated at 1,700 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Instead, Frist seemed intent on steering clear of the views expressed by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other conservatives in and out of Congress who have urged investigations and even possible impeachment of judges they describe as activists.

"Our judiciary must be independent, impartial and fair," said Frist, who was not present at the event.

"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.

"Either confirm the nominees or reject them," Frist said. "Don't leave them hanging."

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, Republican leaders have said they expect to prevail if they put the issue to the test.

Democrats blocked 10 judicial appointments in Bush's first term. The president has renominated seven of the 10 since he won re-election, and Democrats have threatened to filibuster them again.

Inflamed by the role of federal judges in Terri Schiavio's final days and rulings on gay marriage, conservative Christians are now determined to take a stand against what some have called a judiciary run amuck and against what they see as democratic efforts to block conservative nominees from the federal bench, reports CBS News Correspondent Joie Chen.

Among the speakers Sunday was R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, who said that putting more evangelicals on the court will mean rulings more in tune with the religious convictions of churchgoers.

"We are not asking for persons merely to be moral," Mohler said. "We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."