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Judicial Interests May Cash In on Supreme Battle

Well before Justice John Paul Stevens officially announced his retirement, staffers for the anti-abortion-rights group Americans United for Life were compiling dossiers on his prospective replacements.

So when the Stevens news broke Friday, the AUL was able to quickly blast e-mails to reporters offering its thumbnail critiques of the top names being floated.

“We’ve been looking at candidates since January,” said William Saunders, senior attorney for the group.

While President Barack Obama has yet to announce his selection for the high court, groups on both sides of the ideological spectrum have been readying for a summer confirmation fight. Ever since the highly partisan war over Ronald Reagan’s unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork in 1987, these judicial battles have taken on the tenor of political campaigns and spawned a cottage industry of interest groups that activate their mailing list of supporters when openings occur.

“Everyone knows what the script will be before the vacancy,” said Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration official and constitutional lawyer who is often interviewed during big judicial fights.

Fein said both liberal and conservative groups discovered “they could raise money” by mounting these lobbying blitzes around high-profile court candidates.

This time, the drama may be even more predictable as some groups dust off their talking points from last summer when the Senate confirmed Sonia Sotomayor for the high court seat vacated by David Souter.

Some judicial groups do warn that it is not yet clear how their lobbying effort over Stevens’ replacement will play out because an Obama appointee is not expected to alter the ideological balance of the court.

And some conservatives say they are less likely to mount a major effort to defeat a moderate nominee such as D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland, whose name has been mentioned.

Nevertheless, in an election year when both parties are trying to energize their bases, and at a time of intense partisanship on Capitol Hill, it is doubtful that any pick will please everyone.

Americans United for Life has already found fault with all of the names floated for Stevens’ replacement, including Garland. In a news release, the group noted that “Judge Garland did volunteer work for presidential candidates who held pro-abortion views, including Bill Clinton in 1992 and Michael Dukakis in 1988.”

On the other side of the abortion issue, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she is also not “taking anything for granted” in the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation process.

“We’re prepared to mount an aggressive campaign,” she said. She added that the group will, if necessary, tap its membership of 600,000 and organize phone banks to press Senators to support a nominee they believe will not erode abortion rights.

Donor Drive

Others hope a Supreme Court brawl will motivate their supporters to open their pocketbooks.

No sooner had Stevens announced his retirement, than the Alliance for Justice, a liberal-leaning judicial group that was founded in 1979, launched a drive to raise $25,000.

“I know you understand how crucial the next few weeks are to ensuring that a progressive nominee for Justice Stevens’ important seat has strong support. We need your help today,” said the appeal posted on the group’s Web site.

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