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Interest Groups Swing Into Action on Supreme Court Pick

Dueling lobbying campaigns to spend millions

Advocacy groups, like those on both sides of the abortion debate demonstrating above, mobilized their campaigns following the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Barack Obama’s selection of U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court on Wednesday unleashed dueling lobbying campaigns from advocacy groups pledging to spend millions of dollars over the coming months.  

The groups also will flock to states with tight Senate races to make their case to voters.  

Even before Obama selected the 63-year-old Chicago-born jurist, liberal groups such as People for the American Way were calling on Senate Republican leaders to reverse themselves and give the nomination a full vetting and, ultimately, a confirmation vote.  

That campaign only intensified with the news that Garland was Obama’s selection to replace conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia, who died last month.  

Conservative groups, meanwhile, are urging senators not to hold hearings or to schedule a vote. Organizations including Heritage Action for America, FreedomWorks and the Judicial Crisis Network say they are backing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who has pledged not to move on Obama’s pick in an election year.  

“Senate Republicans deserve credit for using their ‘advice and consent’ authority to ensure the American people’s voices are not ignored as they are in the process of selecting their next president,” said Heritage Action’s Chief Executive Officer Michael A. Needham. “President Obama and Senate Democrats will no doubt call Judge Garland a ‘mainstream federal judge’ and promise his ‘approach to deciding cases on the law and the Constitution, not politics or an ideological agenda.’  . . .  The Republican majority exists to block these type of nominees.”  

Some progressive groups expressed disappointment at Obama’s pick but still called for a vote.  

Democracy for America, which had been lobbying for a liberal Supreme Court nominee, said its activists wanted a "progressive woman of color" and that choosing Garland would make it more difficult to energize progressive voters. But the group still called for Republicans to give the nominee "a fair hearing," said the group’s executive director Charles Chamberlain.  

Most liberal lobbies stuck with the president’s pick.  

“Senators who refuse to consider the president’s nominee are failing the American people,” said Common Cause president Miles Rapoport.  

Jason Pye, director of justice reform at the conservative FreedomWorks, said his group is focused less on the pick than on its argument that no nominee should be considered until after elections.  

“This is absolutely not personal,” Pye said. “It is not about the nominee. It’s about the process.”  

The White House, too, is relying on outsiders to help in the persuasion campaign.  

Stephanie Cutter, a partner at Precision Strategies and a former deputy campaign manager of Obama’s 2012 re-election effort, and Anita Dunn, a former Obama White House official now with the firm SKD Knickerbocker, are helping to organize outside efforts.  

John T. Bennett contributed to this report.  

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