Left Plans All-Out War Over Court

An organized and well-funded coalition of liberal interest groups is prepared to launch a hard-hitting, unified campaign of attack, unprecedented in its scope, against any truly conservative nominee President Bush puts forth for the Supreme Court.

As anticipation of a Supreme Court vacancy grew over the past few months—culminating with the July 1 resignation of Sandra Day O’Connor—leaders of liberal activist groups gathered at weekly strategy meetings in Washington, D.C., to plan their attack.

Depending on whom Bush nominates—an announcement is now expected in late July—the coalition of groups is prepared to collaborate and instantly take aim at the nominee. “Within 15 minutes to an hour” of an announcement, People For the American Way (PFAW) President Ralph Neas told the Washington Post, “all the leaders will be talking.”

Ready and Waiting

Talking points and dossiers are already prepared and waiting. Leading the plan of attack are three veterans of past judicial confirmation fights—Neas, Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron and Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR). Together, their three organizations make up the backbone of the so-called Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary.

All told, liberal and conservative special interests could spend upwards of $50 million by the time a nominee is confirmed by the Senate.  And liberal groups aren’t to be taken lightly. With aggressive Sen. Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.) talking about a “war” and more than a million grassroots activists ready to launch a full-scale assault on Bush’s nominee, conservatives are scurrying to ready their defenses.

Asked last week about their plans, the liberal interest groups refused to discuss their strategies with Human Events. In fact, PFAW, which initially promised an interview with Vice President Elliot Mincberg, abruptly changed course and refused to comment. Aron’s Alliance for Justice, meanwhile, didn’t return phone calls. Only Nancy Zirkin, deputy director for the LCCR, spoke to Human Events.

Zirkin declined to discuss the anticipated campaign, suggesting instead that Bush could avoid a war if he nominates a justice acceptable to the left. “The consultation that everyone’s talking about hopefully will produce a consensus around a candidate,” she said. “The proof of the consensus will be if it’s a bipartisan choice—if it’s somebody who is independent, who looks at the law with an independent mind, free of political bias or ideology. We’re hoping the results will produce a consensus nominee who has those characteristics.”

But even a nominee such as Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales—unacceptable to most conservatives—might not pass the test with liberals. “I think it’s difficult to say at this point who we would accept or who we would reject,” said Aron, during a July 3 appearance on “Fox News Sunday.” “There’s much in Gonzales’s record that we really don’t know much about. We don’t really know about his views on a number of issues: choice, civil rights, women’s rights, environmental worker protections. It’s really up to the Senate to conduct a broad, thorough review so that we can learn who he is and basically what he thinks.”

Costly Battle

If the person Bush nominates does not pass the left-wing’s test of being a “bipartisan choice,” the groups will be capable of waging a fierce and costly fight. PFAW alone spent $5 million to attack the “nuclear option” to restore up-or-down votes for judicial nominees when it appeared Senate Republicans were going to implement it in May. The LCCR added another $3.75 million to that campaign.

No one on the left is releasing figures for a Supreme Court fight—the conservative Progress for America plans to spend $18 million to defend Bush’s nominee, for example—but solicitations from left-wing groups have already made their way into the hands of donors.

In addition to the money blitz in the coming judicial-nominee war, conservatives will face a second formidable challenge from the left’s grassroots organizing. Moments after O’Connor announced her retirement, PFAW activated its 2,500-square-foot war room in Washington, D.C., where its staff of young volunteers spread the word to activists across the country.

Since the failed 1987 confirmation of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court, the left has been stirring up its base over the court, primarily on the issue of abortion.  During his 1991 confirmation hearings, Clarence Thomas faced a barrage of attacks from liberal interest groups.

At that time, conservatives failed to adequately counter groups such as the Alliance for Justice and PFAW. Since then, however, conservatives have created groups including the Committee for Justice and the Judicial Confirmation Network to try to achieve a balance of power in a judicial confirmation battle.

In the face of the left’s well-funded and well-coordinated efforts, defending Bush’s nominee won’t be easy. But Manual Miranda, chairman of the Third Branch Conference, said conservatives are ready. “We’ll never be perfectly matched,” he told Human Events. “They have the profit motive that drives them. They are a small cottage industry, have big staffs and salaries, and they need to make payroll. But what we have is a powerful formation of organizations all across the country, and they are more prepared on this issue today than organizations on the right have ever been before.”