Outside groups with a stake in who sits on the Supreme Court are hoping that Senate confirmation hearings of Elena Kagan will energize their supporters and capture the attention of a public focused on other matters.
So far, the lead-up to the Senate deliberations, scheduled to begin next week, has been a bit of a snooze, overshadowed by headline-grabbing events such as the BP oil spill and dogged by the perception that Republicans dont have the votes to block Kagans confirmation.
But leaders of conservative groups who oppose Kagan, in particular, say that both the Judiciary Committee hearings and full Senate debate have the potential to be a wake-up call by highlighting damaging information that could sink her confirmation.
These activists have been digging through Kagans writings from her tenure in the Clinton administration and marshaling opposition from prominent conservatives, such as unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, to build their case.
At the same time, they are holding back on expensive advertising campaigns or grass-roots efforts until the hearings commence.
People who have been around the block know you dont have the playoff intensity until the hearing and the floor debate, said Gary Marx, executive director of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that opposes Kagans confirmation.
Marx said that next week his group will set up a war room in its offices near the Supreme Court building. He said supporters will be making phone calls to Senators while the organizations chief counsel, Carrie Severino, tweets from the hearings.
Marx suggested that enthusiasm for such battles may not be as intense as in the past because activists have gone through so many Supreme Court battles in recent years.
Some of the novelty of a Supreme Court battle has worn off since John Roberts was nominated, he said, referring to President George W. Bushs selection for chief justice in 2005. Since then, the Senate has confirmed two more top court justices, Samuel Alito and Sonia Sotomayor.
Much of the activity among groups that follows court nominations has consisted of media events and website postings.
Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative Committee on Justice, said activists are now meeting with staffs of Republican Senators. Closer to the full Senate deliberations, he said, they will target red-state Democrats.
Levey, whose group is holding a press conference today, added that conservative groups are setting aside funds for advertising but noted, This isnt going to be something where a million dollars is spent on advertising.
Liberal groups such as People for the American Way are not budgeting for big advertising campaigns either.
Marge Baker, PFAW executive vice president, said it likely wont be necessary.
There is no panic or alarm in the progressive community. This is a qualified nominee, she said.
Nevertheless, Baker said her group planned to use the confirmation hearings to highlight what it views as the corporate tilt of the Roberts court, as evidenced by the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which ended most prohibitions on corporate and union political spending.
Baker also said she will attend the hearings, and members of her staff will tweet and blog.