It has been an encouraging start to 2006 with several important victories in Washington. Although the Senate vote turned into a political partisan battle, Supreme Court nominee Judge Alito became Justice Alito with a vote of 58-to-42.
At the same time, we were delighted by an important victory regarding prayer and military chaplains as the Air Force released revised guidelines protecting the constitutional rights of chaplains.
ACLJ's Director of Governmental Affairs, Drew Ryun, reports on some current developments regarding legislative activity on Capitol Hill:
There are still some major issues in committees and on the floors of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In the Senate, the NSA wiretapping hearings just ended in the Judiciary Committee where Attorney General Alberot Gonzales gave a solid defense of the Presidents wiretapping of known terrorists. While some attempted to make political gains from the issue, it was became very clear that not only was the President operating under the executive powers found in Aritcle 2 of the Constitution, there were clear parameters around the program with sufficient oversight to see that the program is not misused in any way.
At the same time, the Fairness In Asbestos Reform (FAIR) was defeated on a point of order vote in the Senate yesterday. While FAIR is a credible attempt at tort reform, it is apparent its conservative opponents -- including Senators Lindsey Graham, John Ensign and John Thune -- fear the loopholes in the medical criteria found in Section 121 of the bill may force the proposed $140 billion trustfund into bankrupcty in less than 5 years. Until these loopholes are closed, it appears unlikely that this bill will pass the Senate in its current form.
On the immigration front, we will see the Senate Judiciary Committe hold hearings in March on the immigration reform bill (HR 4437) passed through the House this past December before the full Senate takes it up for consideration. This issue will receive intense scrutinty and debate. With 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States right now and 1 million more crossing our borders each year, this is an issue that impacts our medical, law enforcement and educational communties as well as the electoral process.
The judicial nomination process is expected to gear up again in April when we are likely to see a new slate of nominees for openings in the federal judiciary. With 54 vacancies in district and appellate courts, there is still much work to be done here. We believe President Bush will continue to nominate men and women who uphold the Constitution and not re-write it.
And, in June, the Senate has scheduled a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment. At this time it is unlikely that the Amendment has the votes necessary to pass, but watch for it to be an explosive election year issue.
The ACLJ continues to work in the courts and in the halls of Congress to protect your constitutional and religious freedoms. We will keep you posted on these and other issues as they develop.