WASHINGTON -- The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, by far Washington's largest lobbying coalition, will launch an all-out campaign today against Senate confirmation of Judge Clarence Thomas, President Bush's nominee for a seat on the Supreme Court.
The Leadership Conference -- the coalition of 185 organizations that led a successful campaign against seating Judge Robert H. Bork on the Supreme Court in 1987 -- has received the go-ahead from its executive committee to seek the undoing of Judge Thomas, the black conservative who now sits as a judge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
Ralph G. Neas, executive director of the Leadership Conference, said yesterday that the executive committee would formally announce its opposition to Judge Thomas' confirmation at a news conference at 10:30 a.m. today.
The 25-member panel decided its position at a meeting Monday and in a series of telephone calls afterward among committee members who were unable to attend, said a source on the panel, who spoke on condition that he not be named.
The committee's decision was based on a staff report, highly critical of Judge Thomas' judicial philosophy and civil rights law enforcement record, that will be made public at today's news conference, the source said.
Beyond its criticism of Judge Thomas and its formal opposition to his confirmation, the Leadership Conference will launch a "full-court press" to persuade senators to vote against the nominee, said the source, who participated in Monday's executive committee meeting.
That characterization of the campaign was the same as that used by an official of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- a key member of the Leadership Conference -- when the NAACP announced its opposition to Judge Thomas last week.
One of the campaign's principal goals, an executive committee source said, will be to offset what he called the "public relations" effort by the White House on behalf of Judge Thomas, who has been named to replace retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall.
President Bush insisted yesterday that "Judge Thomas has tremendous support from a broad section, a cross-section of America, and that across-the-board support includes minority communities."
Mr. Bush used the occasion of a speech to employees of the Drug Enforcement Administration to disparage opposition to Judge Thomas as mainly a product of "Beltway" groups, a reference to the highway that encircles the nation's capital and, to many Washington observers, cuts off those inside the circle from understanding what's going on in the rest of the country.
"So when you hear about opposition to Judge Thomas from one Beltway group or another," he said, "it's clear that they are simply out of touch with mainstream America."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater told reporters yesterday: "We're going to keep the pressure on. We think he's )) going to be confirmed."
Leadership Conference sources said there was no opposition within its executive committee to a campaign against Judge Thomas. The committee reflects the membership of the entire coalition -- a broad spectrum of organizations concerned not only with black civil rights, but also with issues regarding labor, women, senior citizens, other minorities, civil liberties, church affairs and the disabled.