Groups vie to be first to shape opinion on Roberts

Conservatives, liberals staking their claims on airwaves and Internet

President's Nominee For Supreme Court

July 20, 2005|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

Even before President Bush formally announced that U.S. Circuit Judge John G. Roberts Jr. was his pick for the Supreme Court, workers for dozens of liberal and conservative interest groups were in full campaign mode.

Research was massed, e-mails were drafted, phone banks were readied and television ad buys were lined up in preparation for the widely expected nomination battle.

Each side was busy staking its claim on the airwaves and on the Internet last night, hoping to be first to shape public opinion in the critical hours after the nominee was introduced. Bush supporters braced for an inevitable onslaught.

"We expect the left will launch a full-scale attack on almost anyone the president nominates, and if they resort to unfair or misleading characterizations of the nominee's record, we will correct that record and fight back," said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, the first conservative organization dedicated full time to judicial nominations.

Across town in Washington, at People for the American Way's campaign-style "war room," staff members worked through the night compiling research on Roberts and drafting talking points for members to follow when speaking with senators and the news media.

"I think we are extremely disappointed that the president did not choose somebody in the mold of [retiring Justice] Sandra Day O'Connor," said Elliot Mincberg, the liberal advocacy group's vice president and legal director. "I think we're first going to get information out about what we know about [Roberts'] record so far and strongly urge there be a commitment to a careful and deliberative process."

The stakes are highest for liberal lobbying groups, which have been thwarted in their efforts to stop a Republican-controlled White House and Congress from advancing a conservative agenda. Many view the remaining liberal and moderate members of the Supreme Court as their last check against the right wing. The successful appointment of Roberts would be another defeat.

"We have been planning for this for some time, and now it's just a matter of executing that plan," said Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The group, whose members picketed outside the White House earlier yesterday, has prepared an all-out campaign to alert the public about any threat the nominee might pose to Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that created a legal right to abortion.

As principal deputy solicitor general in the first President Bush's term, Roberts co-wrote a brief urging the court to overturn Roe. But at his 2003 confirmation hearings for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, he said, "Roe v. Wade is the settled law of the land. ... There's nothing in my personal views that would prevent me from fully and faithfully applying that precedent."

Minutes after the nomination was announced, NARAL shot an e-mail to 30,000 "rapid responders" nationwide, exhorting them to bombard senators with phone calls and write letters to editors of their local newspapers. About 800,000 other supporters were set to receive a more general plea for action. NARAL banner ads began appearing last night on a variety of Internet sites pushing the group's message about abortion rights.

At People for the American Way, staff worked late into the evening drafting e-mails telling nearly 800,000 members and activists to call senators in battleground states. Kristin Bateman, who heads the "war room," was putting together call lists and writing scripts for volunteers to follow when contacting fellow activists this morning. It was shaping up to be a late night.

"I have to get ready for morning," she said.

Early indications are that the nomination battle will be a boon for media companies. Already, the conservative Progress for America has pledged to spend $18 million pushing the president's nominee. Ads introducing Roberts to the nation are expected to air in critical markets in coming days. A representative for the group did not return calls yesterday.

Rushton, who was busy yesterday afternoon working the phones and conducting interviews, said conservative groups will target Democratic senators in states that voted Republican in the last election in hopes of pressuring them to back away from partisan attacks.

"We have the distinct advantage of having the White House on our side as well as a Senate majority," he said. "I think we will be tough and vigilant about responding."

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