Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, had the attention of thousands of evangelical Christians, shoehorned into a Nashville church Sunday to learn more about the Supreme Court.
DeLay's remarks at "Justice Sunday II," televised for broadcast to churches nationwide, came only three weeks before the Senate begins considering the nomination of John Roberts to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Those hearings are scheduled to start Sept. 6.
"All wisdom does not reside in nine persons in black robes," DeLay told the crowd. "The Constitution is clear on the point that the power to make laws is vested on Congress."
Roberts' views on judicial activism are under scrutiny by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Republicans are heartened by Roberts, who sits on the federal appeals bench, remarking that judges should interpret the law, not make law. Democrats, fearful of a high-court reversal on abortion, like that Roberts sees precedent playing an "important role in promoting the stability of the legal system."
James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, cautioned that America's most powerful judges are "unelected, unaccountable and arrogant."
The president of The Catholic League, Bill Donohue, suggested a constitutional amendment to say that "unless a judicial vote is unanimous, you cannot overturn a law created by Congress."
The court is trying to "take the hearts and souls of our culture," he said.
Dobson evoked the framers of the Constitution, saying: "These activist, unelected judges believe they know better than the American people about the direction the country should go. The framers of our great nation did not intend for the courts to have absolute and final power over us."
Protesters were also vocal, both outside Two Rivers Baptist Church, where the rally was held, and across town, where a group of religious leaders held a rally to counter what they saw as an extremist message.
"This is so Americans can see the 'Justice Sunday' sponsors and Tom DeLay don't have any exclusive hold on religion," said Glenn Smith, an organizer of "Community of Faith and Unity Gathering."
Rita Nakashima Brock, founder of Faith Voices for the Common Good, said "Justice Sunday II" was calling for a theocracy instead of democracy.
"Those people meeting with Tom DeLay, Chuck Colson and Jim Dobson think they own the Bible and that God speaks only to them," Brock said.
The first "Justice Sunday" event, held in April at a church in Louisville, Ky., had been aimed at stopping a potential filibuster of several nominees for the federal bench.
One of the speakers at that event, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Miss., had threatened to try to change Senate rules to prevent certain filibusters if Democrats persisted, a move applauded by the rally organizers. Weeks later, 14 Senate Republicans and Democrats forged a compromise. Some conservatives accused Frist of allowing it to happen.
"There will be repercussions," Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said at the time.
Frist, a surgeon, was not invited to address "Justice Sunday II" because he angered the events' organizers by voicing his support for expanded human embryonic stem cell research.
At the rally Sunday, Mike Miller, 54, of Gallatin echoed many of the speakers comments on judicial power, saying he believes Supreme Court justices try to create laws with their rulings instead of interpreting the Constitution.
"Activist justices — we're trying to find out what we can do to stop that activity," he said. "Our laws are based on the Ten Commandments."