Michael Schwartz must have thought I was just another attendee of the “Confronting the Judicial War on Faith” conference. I approached the chief of staff of Oklahoma’s GOP Senator Tom Coburn outside the conference in downtown Washington last Thursday afternoon after he spoke there. Before I could introduce myself, he turned to me and another observer with a crooked smile and exclaimed, “I’m a radical! I’m a real extremist. I don’t want to impeach judges. I want to impale them!”
For two days, on April 7 and 8, conservative activists and top GOP staffers summoned the raw rage of the Christian right following the Terri Schiavo affair, and likened judges to communists, terrorists and murderers. The remedies they suggested for what they termed “judicial tyranny” ranged from the mass impeachment of judges to their physical elimination.
The speakers included embattled House majority leader Tom DeLay, conservative matriarch Phyllis Schlafly and failed Republican senatorial candidate Alan Keyes. Like a performance artist, Keyes riled the crowd up, mixing animadversions on constitutional law with sudden, stentorian salvos against judges. “Ronald Reagan said the Soviet Union was the focus of evil during the cold war. I believe that the judiciary is the focus of evil in our society today,” Keyes declared, slapping the lectern for emphasis.
At a banquet the previous evening, the Constitution Party’s 2004 presidential candidate, Michael Peroutka, called the removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube “an act of terror in broad daylight aided and abetted by the police under the authority of the governor.” Red-faced and sweating profusely, Peroutka added, “This was the very definition of state-sponsored terror.” Edwin Vieira, a lawyer and author of How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary, went even further, suggesting during a panel discussion that Joseph Stalin offered the best method for reining in the Supreme Court. “He had a slogan,” Vieira said, “and it worked very well for him whenever he ran into difficulty: ‘No man, no problem.'”
The complete Stalin quote is, “Death solves all problems: no man, no problem.”
The threatening tenor of the conference speakers was a calculated tactic. As Gary Cass, the director of Rev. D. James Kennedy’s lobbying front, the Center for Reclaiming America, explained, they are arousing the anger of their base in order to harness it politically. The rising tide of threats against judges “is understandable,” Cass told me, “but we have to take the opportunity to channel that into a constitutional solution.”