Court Struggle Stokes Conservatives

Posted May 18, 2009 at 6:18pm

Despite moves by Senate Republicans to downplay expectations of a battle royal over the next Supreme Court nominee, conservative judicial activists are increasing pressure on their Congressional allies to oppose a liberal jurist.

Though it’s unclear just how soon President Barack Obama will name Justice David Souter’s replacement, groups such as the Third Branch Conference, the Judicial Confirmation Network and the Committee for Justice are mapping out their strategy to rally Senate Republicans’ appetite for pushback.

“Ever since [Justice Samuel] Alito, judicial nominations have not been on the Republican leadership agenda,— Third Branch Conference Chairman Manuel Miranda said. “Right now the goal of the right has to be to focus on Republicans in the Senate.—

So far, conservatives are rallying around Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who took over as ranking member of the Judiciary Committee after Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) announced last month he was leaving the GOP.

Specter had been a strong advocate for the right in the past, and conservatives expect Sessions will continue to hold their mantle even higher.

“Sessions has been fantastic,— JCN counsel Wendy Long said. “He is being very responsible and is preparing thoroughly to do the job that the Constitution asks him to do.—

Conservatives are also meeting with Republican Senators such as Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John Thune (S.D.), who leads the GOP’s coalition outreach, to encourage them to stand strong against Obama’s nominee, according to Miranda.

Although Republicans will likely be unable to garner enough votes to thwart an Obama nominee, that doesn’t mean Republicans should give up, according to Curt Levey of the Committee for Justice.

“We expect them not to roll over,— Levey said, citing Justices Stephen Breyer’s and Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s easy confirmations as examples of what he’d like to avoid.

“We are making sure that they realize even if it’s not a nominee we can defeat, that there are various goals that can be accomplished that will require tough questions, and not letting the Democrats rush the nominee through,— Levey added.

Conservative organizations are also turning their attention beyond the Beltway.

Grass-tops leaders from across the country have been holding conference calls over the past week to reignite activists on the issue.

“We want to focus their attention on where the right effort should go and the kind of language and manner that would be most useful to the debate,— Miranda said.

The groups have also begun to fundraise to pay for what could be a multimillion-dollar fight. The Committee for Justice, for example, has already seen a boost in donations.

Still, no one expects the right to be able to fundraise to the extent that it has in past confirmation battles.

Conservatives relied heavily on the now-defunct Progress for America as the main generator for paid media during the last battle.

The group reportedly raised several million dollars for the confirmation battle to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In PFA’s stead, the Judicial Confirmation Network has already begun a public relations campaign against Obama’s potential nominees.

The group unveiled a new Web site Monday, obamasfrontrunners.com, to highlight conservative critiques of three potential nominees — Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood.

The site includes links to Web ads the group has put together on the three potential candidates and polls visitors on which is the most liberal.

During a national conference call with other conservative activists, JCN Executive Director Gary Marx urged participants to begin “activating— their state-level networks of activists and ramp up their efforts to put pressure on Senators to adhere to conservative principles when considering Obama’s selection.

Marx warned that activists will “hold those Senators accountable— who vote for judges the network opposes.

Long argued that in recent days, Obama and other administration officials have begun to pick up the rhetoric of conservatives in saying the selection will be an adherent of the law, while avoiding talk of “empathy.—

Democrats are “no longer talking about the Obama empathy’ standard. … What they’re doing now is picking up on our language,— Long said.

JCN has fundraised in the “seven figures— for possible TV and radio ad buys, Long said.

The National Republican Trust political action committee will also likely weigh in on the Supreme Court debate for the first time.

Formed last September, the group, which spent more than $6 million during the presidential campaign airing commercials about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has already written to Senators and may run ads depending on Obama’s choice, Executive Director Scott Wheeler said.

“We might run ads in different states to appeal to certain Senators,— Wheeler said.

Liberal groups such as People for the American Way have also been ramping up their efforts to make sure they are ready to answer conservatives.

“In the absence of a nominee, there has been a lot of misrepresentation by the right wing, which we think needs to be challenged and needs to be corrected,— PFAW’s Marge Baker said.

PFAW is also reaching out to its grass-roots network to make sure they are ready in the event of conservative pushback on an Obama nominee.

John Stanton contributed to this report.