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Ad campaigns turn up volume on debate over judicial filibuster

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - The fight over federal judicial nominees shifts this week from Capitol Hill to America's living rooms, with interest groups escalating an ad war in an effort to swing senators their way.

Progress for America, a conservative advocacy group, launched an ad yesterday targeting five Republican and five Democratic senators who are considered pivotal to whether the Senate changes its rules to prevent filibusters over some of President Bush's nominees to the federal bench.

People for the American Way, a liberal group, is responding with an ad scheduled to begin running today in the same states. The ad portrays the filibuster - a parliamentary tactic in which senators talk as long as they want to prevent a vote - as an effective check against one party holding too much power.

This year the group sponsored an ad featuring perhaps the most famous, albeit fictional, filibuster - the one led by Jimmy Stewart in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The blitz comes amid the growing likelihood that the Senate's GOP majority will try to bar use of the filibuster to block judicial nominees - a rule change that has been dubbed by some the "nuclear option" because of the political rancor it would cause.

Senate Republican leaders say Democrats have abused the filibuster to prevent votes on 10 of Bush's nominees to federal appellate courts. Democrats respond that they have allowed votes on most of Bush's judicial nominees, blocking only those they regard as extremists.

It takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. Under the rule change, Bush's judicial nominees would need 51 votes to win confirmation.

The issue has gained importance because of the possibility that one or more Supreme Court seats soon might become vacant.

The Progress for America ad is running in Alaska, Arkansas, Maine, Nebraska, North Dakota and Rhode Island.

It features two Bush judicial nominees filibustered by Democrats but resubmitted by the president for confirmation: California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen. The ad praises Brown as the "daughter of Alabama sharecroppers" who "put herself through school and rose to become the first African-American woman on the California Supreme Court."

The ad declares that "Senate Democrats have abused the rules and refused to even allow a vote [on the nominees]." The ad urges citizens to contact their senators in support of the push to bar the filibuster.

The ad is part of a $3.3 million campaign that includes hiring workers in 15 states to rally the public behind the anti-filibuster effort and pay for a TV ad that will run nationally next week.

The People for the American Way ad that will run in the same states also features Brown and Owen. It calls the California justice a "radical" whose appointment to the federal bench is opposed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

"What's this filibuster talk really all about?" it asks. "Power. And too much power's a dangerous thing."

The ad shows pictures of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, and says they are "bent out of shape" because of filibusters over a few of Bush's nominees.

People for the American Way and the People for the American Way Foundation plan to spend more than $1 million on the ads, which also will be broadcast during the next two weeks on radio and appear in newspapers.

The GOP senators targeted by the ad campaigns have expressed opposition to banning the filibuster or have yet to announce their position on the issue.

The Democratic senators targeted by ads oppose banning the filibuster but represent states won by Bush in last year's presidential election.

Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island has announced plans to vote with the Democrats, while Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Olympia J. Snowe and Susan M. Collins of Maine are publicly undecided. Republicans have also expressed concern about Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's willingness to follow the party leadership on the issue.

Arkansas and North Dakota each have two Democratic senators, and all are expected to support their party's leadership.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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