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Republican strategists hope the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance (see In Brief: Pledging a Battle) is a political opportunity. They believe it could help GOP candidates crisply define the battle for control of the House and Senate and rally conservative and independent voters to the polls this fall. Forget the court's next-day flip-flop, setting aside the decision. (The move was as nakedly political as the initial ruling itself. It is meaningless to stay a decision that could not take effect for 45 days anyway; it only serves to reveal the court's embarrassment.)

But Democrats-by denouncing the court's opinion with GOP-like vigor-were not about to get on the wrong side of the Pledge. Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), and Whip Tom DeLay (R-Texas) tried to seize the high ground, but Democratic leaders stayed with them every step of the way. Possible Democratic presidential candidates Dick Gephardt, House minority leader, and Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) quickly distanced themselves from the decision. Former vice presidential contender Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) was the first to call for a constitutional amendment to protect the Pledge.

Less than three hours after the court's decision was announced, the National Republican Congressional Committee fired off a memo to every GOP candidate and thousands of grassroots activists urging them to make the connection between the unpopular ruling and Democratic delays on approval of President Bush's judicial nominees. So far, no good.

But the GOP does have plenty of ammunition to make the 9th Circuit the poster child of judicial activism. Of the 24 "active judges" on the court (there are four vacancies), liberal presidents appointed 58 percent (14 by Bill Clinton and three by Jimmy Carter). Of the 21 "senior judges"-elderly jurists who still hear cases but not as many-71 percent were appointed by presidents with liberal judicial philosophies (one by John F. Kennedy, five by Richard Nixon, nine by President Carter).

The 2-1 Pledge decision specifically pitted two liberals-Judge Alfred T. Goodwin (a Nixon appointee in October 1971) and Judge Stephen Reinhardt (a Carter appointee in September 1980)-against Judge Ferdinand F. Fernandez, who was appointed by George H.W. Bush in May 1989.

"The more the issue of judges and judicial appointments becomes a focal point of media coverage, that's good for us," says DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella. It will require a sustained effort.

House Republicans are beginning to break with President Bush-who opposes arming pilots-over airline safety. The House Transportation Committee approved legislation that would allow up to 1,400 commercial pilots-only about 2 percent of all commercial pilots-to carry guns to protect themselves, their crew, and their passengers from terrorists while flying.

The Capitol Hill police have ordered 20,000 gas masks. They will soon begin training members of Congress and their staffs on the use of such masks in the event of a chemical or biological attack. They would help protect the wearer from anthrax and most bioterrorist toxins long enough for escape from the Capitol to a secure location.

Worldcom, owner of MCI and the nation's second-largest long-distance phone company, is facing a government probe after announcing that it failed to properly disclose $3.8 billion in debt. Is this a political scandal? Thus far in the 2001-2002 election cycle, 56 percent of Worldcom's $423,000 in campaign contributions has gone to Democrats. Republicans received 44 percent.

Another business scandal involves another generous Democratic benefactor: Martha Stewart, who faces allegations of participation in an insider stock scandal. In this election cycle, Ms. Stewart and her company have made $143,666 in campaign contributions, 99 percent of which went to Democrats.

Joel C. Rosenberg

Joel is a New York Times best-selling author and a former WORLD correspondent.


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