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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
May 27, 2005

Compromise advances the three most anti-gay judges

Washington, D.C.--Three extremely anti-gay judges will likely be given lifetime appointments to federal courts as the result of this week�s eleventh-hour compromise to avoid the �nuclear option� in the Senate.

Janice Rogers Brown, nominated to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; William H. Pryor Jr., to the Eleventh Circuit; and Priscilla Owen, to the Fifth Circuit will not have their confirmations filibustered as part of an agreement by seven Democrats and seven Republicans.

Confirmation of these judges, nominated by President Bush, was blocked last session by Democrats through a process of never-ending debate according to longstanding Senate rules, known as the filibuster. After he was re-elected, Bush renominated these three and four others that were blocked due to their ideology or lack of qualifications.

Filibusters are ended by passing a cloture petition, which requires 60 senators.

The �nuclear option,� promoted by right-wing groups and Republican leader Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, would have done away with the filibuster for judicial nominees, allowing them to be confirmed with as few as 51 votes.

Pryor, arguably the worst of the three on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights, believes there is nothing wrong with imprisoning gay men and lesbians for expressing their sexuality in the privacy of their own homes. He opposes any legal protection for LGBT people in the workplace and in public accomodations. Pryor has argued that matters such as reproductive choice, LGBT rights and school prayer are outside the scope of the U.S. Constitution and should be decided by political majorities of each state.

Pryor compares gay love to bestiality, pedophilia and incest.

Ralph Neas, president of the civil rights advocacy group People for the American Way, called Pryor �one of the most dangerous judicial nominees of this administration that we�ve seen yet.�

Brown, an African American who is rebuked by nearly every racial civil rights advocacy group, was the lone dissent in a California Supreme Court case upholding adoption rights of same-sex couples. She has often been the lone dissent in cases involving equality under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Owen is a member of the anti-gay Federalist Society, and advocates a very narrow interpretation of civil rights laws that renders them nearly useless.

According to the agreement, the 14 senators made no promises to support or oppose the other nominees. These include� that of Henry Saad, who is also a Federalist Society member, to the Sixth Circuit, which includes Ohio.

�Protecting the filibuster comes at a high price for the LGBT community,� said Lambda Legal director Kevin Cathcart, adding that the community must put a high priority on defeating Pryor when his nomination comes to the Senate floor.

The compromise was signed by Republicans John McCain of Arizona, John Warner of Virginia, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine. They were joined by Democrats Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Ken Salazar of Colorado, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

It does not prohibit future use of the nuclear option, but only says it won�t happen now.

�We feel a deep foreboding that, with this compromise, the Senate may turn out to have lost sight of critically important trees with the hope of possibly saving the forest,� said National Gay and Lesbian Task Force director Matt Foreman.

Foreman said the compromise deal gives 14 senators elevated importance in deciding who gets confirmed to federal judicial posts, especially the Supreme Court.

This is because another provision in the agreement says that as far as the signatories are concerned, �nominees should only be filibustered under extraordinary circumstances, and each signatory must use his or her discretion and judgment in determining whether such circumstances exist.�

Other LGBT groups have been more hopeful of the agreement.

The Human Rights Campaign expressed disappointment that Pryor would proceed, but lauded the efforts of the signatories for saving the filibuster.

National Stonewall Democrats spokesperson John Marble said the agreement �kicked the ball a little farther down the field� and added, �It�s a victory for the LGBT community, but not a sweet victory.�

Marble said the real problem lies with Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who is allowing these nominees to come out of committee.

�Specter tries to act like he�s our friend, but when this happens, he�s not,� said Marble.

Amanda Flaig, spokesperson for Senator DeWine, said he felt the deal was important because the Senate was faced with bad choices without it--the loss of the filibuster, or the slowing down of Senate business.

The leaders of the anti-gay industry who pushed for the �nuclear option,� including James Dobson, Phyllis Schlafly, and Tony Perkins, are calling the agreement a betrayal by Republicans.

�That�s a charade,� said Foreman. �They got what they wanted.�

�The extremists they wanted most will get votes, and Frist has already threatened use of the nuclear option later,� said Foreman.

�If [the anti-gays] aren�t happy with [the agreement],� said Foreman, �it shows how truly extreme they are.�



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