Filibuster Fight Extends Beyond Senate

Former presidential candidate Al Gore (search) accused Senate Republicans on Wednesday of carrying out the dirty work of right wing heretics bent on undermining the federal courts by seeking an end to Democratic judicial filibusters (search).

Gore said the path to a quasi-Republican dictatorship is paved by an end to judicial filibusters.

"Their grand design is an all-powerful executive using a weakened legislature to fashion a compliant judiciary in its own image," Gore told members of MoveOnPAC (search).

Gore warned that ending the Democrats' novel use of a 60-vote majority to defeat a handful of conservative court nominees would turn Americans over to merciless corporations and religious zealots.

"America would face the twin dangers of an economic blueprint that eliminated most all of the safeguards and protections established for middle-class families throughout the 20th century and a complete revision of the historic insulation of the rule of law from sectarian dogma," Gore said.

Gore's protests nothwithstanding, former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (search) set aside earlier misgivings and endorsed a move to abolish judicial filibusters. Dole said he preferred a negotiated settlement but concluded that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had the right to end what he called unconstitutional Democratic obstructionism.

"I hope changing the Senate's rules won't be necessary, but Senator Frist will be fully justified in doing so if he believes he has exhausted every effort at compromise," Dole wrote in an editorial that appeared in Wednesday's New York Times.

In an interview on "The Tony Snow Show" on FOX News Radio, Frist dismissed Democratic offers to confirm one or two filibustered Bush nominees.

"The offers that have been floated yesterday, the sort of spin-the-bottle, Russian roulette approach to judges is not, I think, respectful of the institution and what we are expected to do," Frist said.

Senate Democrats said judicial filibusters protect the courts from activist judges and preserve the Senate's ability to achieve consensus.

"This was never intended in any sense to be a majoritarian institution," said Delaware Democratic Sen. Joe Biden. "This distinctive quality to the Senate is part of that great compromise without which we could not have a Constitution."

Republicans point to the nomination of Clarence Thomas (search) to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 as proof the judicial filibuster is a recent Democratic invention. The democratically controlled Senate at the time did not use the filibuster and narrowly confirmed Thomas, even though most Democrats and party activists opposed him far more aggressively and bitterly than any of President Bush's judicial nominees blocked so far.

Said C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel for President George H.W. Bush: "We ended up with only 52 but we never had 60, and it would have been a much more dignified, civil way to block him if the Democrats simply said, 'We want 60 votes.' We would have said, 'OK, we don't have them,' and that would have been it."

In another developoment, Democratic activists are said to be furious with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid for opening negotiations to confirm just a couple Bush nominees. A spokesman said Reid will meet with a couple of these representatives in the coming week so they can "blow off some steam."

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.