Conservative Ad Targets Supreme Court Justices

A conservative group opposed to the Supreme Court’s approval of the health care overhaul law in June has launched an unusual campaign-style advertisement critical of two Republican appointees to the court: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

“Demand justices with a proven record of upholding the constitution. We can’t afford more surprises,” a narrator says as the video shows the faces of Roberts, Kennedy and former Justice David Souter, who retired in 2009.

The three justices are “examples of bad GOP appointments,” the Judicial Crisis Network said ina statement announcing the advertisements. The ad kicks off a campaign that will have a home at www.SCOTUS2016.com as early as Tuesday, the group said.

The website will act as a clearing house for candidates' records when it comes to appointing or approving judges, including how senators-turned-presidential-hopefuls voted on judicial nominations in Congress, Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, said in an interview Monday.

Voters are paying more attention to the Supreme Court after the last term ended in June with the health care case and the legalization of same-sex marriage, Severino said.

Those cases "seemed to highlight the concerns people have for judges making decisions for reasons other than what the law says," Severino said. "I think that was a real wake up call to a lot of people realizing how decisions of the Supreme Court can affect us on every aspect of our lives today."

The Judicial Crisis Network, which focuses on the judicial appointment and confirmation process, does not disclose the source of its funding. Severino on Monday declined to disclose whether the group had plans for future advertising buys about the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court doesn’t often rate as a major issue for presidential voters compared to matters such as the economy, jobs or social issues. Currently, 48 percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the Supreme Court, but the 43 percent who view the court unfavorably is the highest level recorded since 1985, according to a national survey from Pew Research Center.

The Judicial Crisis Network says it made the $200,000 television and digital ad buys ahead of the Republican presidential debates to get candidates on the record about their approach to Supreme Court picks. The next Republican debate is Wednesday.

The television and digital ads are set to run in Iowa, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C. starting Monday, the group said. Four of the nine justices are older than 75, meaning the next president could have several appointments because of retirements or deaths.

“On the most important issues, the Supreme Court decides,” the narrator says in the ad. “The next president could appoint a new majority to last a generation.”

Health Care Ruling

The video includes text that focuses on abortion clinics, affirmative action, unions and the death penalty, but  conservatives' major criticism of Roberts comes from the June 6-3 decision in King v. Burwell that again upheld the health care overhaul law.

Roberts, a President George W. Bush appointee, wrote that decision, and Kennedy, a President Ronald Reagan pick, joined him and the four justices who make up the liberal wing of the court to deliver a win for the Obama administration.

Severino, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas, said Monday that Roberts' nomination exemplifies the danger of a president nominating someone who doesn’t have a clear record on the bench. She said Roberts was on the bench for a short time and "very guarded about what his true philosophy would be."

The health care decision "highlights the fundamental importance of finding judges who have a clear record of judicial philosophy, not just, 'I will apply the law faithfully,'" she said.

Severino called out Roberts at the time of the health care decision, saying that if he “is willing to join the Court’s liberals in this linguistic farce, it’s time we admitted that our national ‘umpire’ is now playing for one of the teams.”

Many conservative court watchers gave up years ago on the conservative bona fides of Kennedy, who is considered a swing vote because he sometimes joins the liberal justices in 5-4 decisions.

The Supreme Court has already been a topic among Republican presidential candidates. Several criticized the 5-4 decision in June that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Kennedy wrote that ruling.