By Hans Johnson
He defended anti-abortion extremists and clinic blockaders. He likened the drive for legal protections by gays and lesbians to the Nazis, calling it a "panzer movement" that is "out to destroy the family as we know it." But Jay Sekulow is no man of the margins. And next year he could be screening nominees for the Supreme Court - from inside the White House.
In its sporadic attention to George W. Bush's courtship of the religious right, the press has focused on the Texas governor's visit to Bob Jones University and the role of former Christian Coalition executive director Ralph Reed, a Bush campaign consultant who in April was caught lobbying Dubya on behalf of Microsoft. Largely overlooked, however, has been the wooing of conservatives like Sekulow, an attorney at Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice in Virginia, who carried a pro-school prayer legal brief signed by Bush into oral arguments at the Supreme Court in March. Also neglected is the substance of Bush's appeal to the Christian right: a pledge to appoint "strict constructionist," conservative judges to the federal bench.
In this election, Bush's judicial pledge of allegiance to conservatives looms large. Five of the nine justices on the U.S. Supreme Court are considered candidates for retirement in the next few years. Raising the stakes further is the abundance of vacancies throughout the federal courts. In Washington, Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of slowing down the judicial nomination process during Clinton's second term to keep spots open for a possible GOP victor to fill upon taking office next January. Seventy-eight spots, or nearly 10 percent of all federal judgeships, are currently vacant.