Scripts-Howard News Service is reporting that Colorado Senator Ken Salazar has accused Colorado Springs based Focus on the Family of being “un-Christian” in its political tactics in the fight over judicial nominations.  He said in a press conference:

I do think that what has happened here is there has been a hijacking of the U.S. Senate by what I call the religious right wing of the country. . . I think what has happened is Focus on the Family has been hijacking Christianity and become an appendage of the Republican Party, I think it’s using Christianity and religion in a very unprincipled way.

Ken Salazar making a political appearance.

Focus on the Family’s Vice President, Tom Minnery, responded by saying: “”I’m flabbergasted the senator would call our Christianity into question.”  Focus on the Family made headlines in January of this year for denouncing the cartoon character Sponge Bob as a homosexual.

Sponge Bob and James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family

Ken Salazar had earlier pledged to give all judges an up or down vote and is now waivering and considering siding with all other Democrats in the U.S. Senate in opposing a Republican threat to end the filibuster of judges, which Republicans now call unprecedented and unconstitutional.  The practice was used by Republicans in September of 1968 to successfully block the appointment of Abe Fortas to the United States Supreme Court is, and as recently as March 9, 2000, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, who is now leading the charge to end the filibuster, voted to continue the Republican filibuster of Clinton Nominee Richard Paez to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  The concerns judges have expressed about the judges in question are summarized here.  For example, nominee Janice Brown has repeatedly denounced the New Deal which resulted in the enactment of Social Security and creation of the SEC as a “socialist revolution.”  She also suggested in a dissenting opinion, which she has called one of her ten most significant opinions, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might be unconstitutional under her view of the law.  Aguilar v. Avis Rent-A-Car Systems, 980 P.2d 846, 892 (Cal. 2000).

Janice Brown, U.S. Court of Appeals Nominee

None of the judges in question are from either the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, or the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, which includes Colorado.  

But, this struggle has wider meaning because it comes in the context of the larger process of Ken Salazar defining himself as a moderate freshman Senator, a stance that has brought him to national prominence as a swing vote on many issues.  He has broken with his Democratic base on a number of issues in his first few months in office, including the nomination of Alberto Gonzales to be the Attorney General, despite concerns raised by Gonzales’ role in formulating a pro-torture policy while White House Counsel, and the recently enacted bankruptcy bill which Salazar supported.  The current filibuster fight is the one of the first high profile fights in Congress since Salazar took office in January, where he has sided with the progressive in the party.

Prior to entering the Senate, Ken Salazar rarely had an occassion to weigh in on the “culture wars” that are a major part of politics in Colorado and nationally.  In his career as an attorney, he was mainly known for his work as a water lawyer, a fairly technocratic part of the law.  As State Attorney General, a post he won with strong rural support and backing from a number of Republicans, Salazar focused on bread and butter issues like pushing for a state “no call” list.

Salazar is a lifelong practicing Roman Catholic Christian, but faced opposition from the Catholic Church during his campaign because he does not favor legally banning abortion, despite the fact that he was running against Republican Pete Coors.  The role of the Catholic Church in Ken Salazar’s race is particularly notable because then Cardinal Ratzinger, who was just this week elevated to become Pope Benedict XVI, was consulted and his approach was viewed a touchstone in the church’s approach to the race.  Ratzinger, on one hand, agreed that Salazar himself, by being a pro-choice politician was being gravely sinful, while on the other hand, rejected the more expansive view taken by Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan in a pastoral letter, that voters would commit a sin by merely voting for Salazar, even if abortion was not an important factor in the voter’s decision, and that it was not the role of the church to tell people how to vote or sanction voters.  

Pope Benedict XVI

In yesterday’s press conference speech, Salazar appears to be defining himself as a lonely voice in Congress speaking out against religious right stances, not from a secular perspective, but from the point of view of a sincere Christian who thinks that the religious right has distorted the Christian message, a view most prominently represented in the political world now by the group Sojourners.

Cross-posted at Political State Report and Daily Kos

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