June 19, 2005

"Everyone in my circle crinkles their nose when his name comes up."

The WaPo seems to know that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is one of three frontrunners for the next Supreme Court opening and that hardcore conservatives aren't too happy about it.
[A] Gonzales nomination could trigger internal dissension among GOP activists, some of whom have warned the White House against naming the attorney general. At a meeting of conservative groups last week to plot strategy for a possible Supreme Court nomination, one leader spoke out against a Gonzales appointment, according to people in the room.

"Some of the groups share that concern," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the Concerned Women for America, who attended the session. While she noted that her organization has not taken a position, she predicted that if Gonzales is chosen, some activists "may not as vigorously support" the nomination, while Roberts or Luttig "would certainly have broader support across the coalition of conservatives."

"Everyone in my circle crinkles their nose when his name comes up," another activist said of Gonzales. "It would be a disaster if that happened."

On abortion, the most volatile test issue for both sides in any Supreme Court fight, Gonzales has offered only certain clues. Conservative activists complain he was not vigorous enough in enforcing a Texas law requiring parental consent before minors could obtain abortions when he was a state Supreme Court justice. On several occasions, he has said he recognizes that the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion is "the law of the land," while once telling an interviewer that "how I feel about it personally may differ with how I feel about it legally."


Chris Dickson said...

"When we speak of preserving the constitution, we mean not the paper on which it is written, but the spirit which dwells in it. Government may lose all of the real character, its genius, its temper without losing its appearance.

Republicanism, unless you guard it, will creep out of its case of parchment, like a snake out of its skin. You may have despotism under the name of a Republic.

You may look on a goverment, and see it possesses all the external modes of freedom, and yet finding nothing of the essence, the vitality, of freedom in it; just as you may contemplate an embalmed body, where art hath preserved proportion and form, amid nerves without action, and veins void of blood"

Daniel Webster
July 4, 1806
Concord, Mass.


We had a very good call today and were at our 50 person limit again so we may need to split into two calls next week as more folks come into the national Coalition. On the call, we discussed:

1) Timing projections on a possible Supreme Court vacancy and process.
2) An introduction to key developments and a who's who on the issue (Third Branch-grasstops) (Progress for America-ads) as two key coalition players in Washington, and the important role of the small Federalist Society lawyers working group.) .
3) The short list and the top three contenders Luttig (Federalist Society pick), Roberts (Washington insiders pick) and Garza (a Texas/Hispanic pick).
4) Update on filibuster reform (6 confirmed, Boyle, and the Bush Admin 3 (Myers, Haines, and Kavanaugh) .
5) Update on Henry Saad.

Below is an article that should remind us of the strength of our horizontal Coalition, but also what the vertical Left does right...i.e. being team players and working together. .

Manny Miranda


Bench Warfare

The coming battle over President Bush's Supreme Court nominee.

by Duncan Currie


BY NOW, RALPH NEAS, head of the liberal group People for the American Way (PFAW), must be used to hyperbolic appraisals of his influence from both friend and foe. The "101st senator," Ted Kennedy once called him on the Senate floor. "When it comes to judicial nominations," opined the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page, "Mr. Neas might as well be the one and only Senator. The 10 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee salute and follow [his] orders."

Neas takes this all in stride. "I've been attacked, I believe, 53 times by the Wall Street Journal editorial board," he laughs, and he deems it a source of "great pride" for PFAW. As for the Journal's exaggerated estimate of his power, he adds, "I can't think of anything more absurd."

He needn't be so modest. Along with Alliance for Justice chief Nan Aron and Leadership Conference on Civil Rights boss Wade Henderson, Neas is one of Washington's three most powerful liberal activists in the judicial wars. Whatever their personal sway over Senate Democrats, Neas, Aron, and Henderson sit atop a vast assembly of nationally known progressive interest groups, including NOW, NARAL, the National Women's Law Center, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, and the Sierra Club.

Aron's Alliance and Henderson's Leadership Conference are both umbrella organizations, the latter being the oldest and largest such civil rights association in America.

But along with PFAW, they're also the principal helmsmen of the Coalition for a Fair and Independent Judiciary. According to Neas, the coalition boasts "about 70 active organizations," and they function together like a well-oiled machine. Over the past few years, Neas says, there has been a coalition meeting "almost every day." The steering committee meets "at least once a week," as do various legislative and legal task forces. And coalition members are in daily communication by phone.

PFAW and the Alliance for Justice have done much of the intellectual spadework for those who are mounting the opposition to President Bush's more conservative judicial nominees. PFAW has published multiple editions of Courting Disaster, its analysis of how a Supreme Court dominated by the likes of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas might affect American law. The Alliance for Justice, meanwhile, has kept a close eye on the bench through its Judicial Selection Project, which Aron spearheaded in 1985. Both groups have provided exhaustive research on such appellate court picks as Charles Pickering, Miguel Estrada, and Priscilla Owen.

But that was all just warm-up for the Big One: the fight over the next Supreme Court nominee, which may well come in the fall, should Chief Justice William Rehnquist's health force him to retire. The coalition's network of some 70 active groups may soon balloon. "If there's a Supreme Court nomination," Neas predicts, "there'll be many more organizations involved."

He would know. In 1987, Neas, Aron, Henderson, and other liberal bigwigs piloted the 300-member "Block Bork" coalition, a motley alliance of local and national advocacy groups. "Block Bork" was of course successful, though similar efforts in 1991 failed to keep Justice Thomas off the bench. During the Thomas hearings, irate Republicans claimed PFAW and the Alliance for Justice were feeding anti-Thomas dirt to the offices of Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee. The Washington Post even reported on an "increasingly symbiotic relationship between committee staffers, liberal interest groups and the news media."

It was the same charge Republicans had made during the Bork hearings. And it's the same charge they've made since George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001. PFAW and others deny they brandish inordinate control over Senate Democrats. That may be true. But it's also true, as a series of judicial memos leaked in November 2003 showed, that Democratic staffers seem especially interested in how "the groups" will react to a given nominee. And those staffers rely heavily on the opposition research of PFAW in particular.

To be sure, comparable groups on the right provide much of the intellectual firepower in support of Bush's nominees. The conservative groups run a conference call every Monday, and a regular Tuesday meeting under the aegis of the Republican National Committee. But the liberal organizations seem more numerous, more coordinated, and compelled by a greater sense of urgency. They've certainly been at it a lot longer. Says a senior GOP Senate aide, "They're much better--and have been much better, historically -- at revving up their groups, and communicating, and telling senators what they'd like to see done." Still, the aide adds, "We're starting to see more Republican groups now."

Most prominent of the new conservative groups is the Committee for Justice, whose formation in July 2002 was prompted by the defeat of the Pickering nomination. C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel during the first Bush presidency, serves as chairman, while Sean Rushton is the group's executive director. Rushton pings out daily emails to around 200 Washington "conservative types" (mainly activists and Hill staff) and 800-1,000 journalists. These frequently offer links to op-eds or rebuttals of PFAW's latest mischief. "We communicate with the 'grass tops,'" Rushton explains, "but we have no grassroots ambition at all, and no grassroots component."

Some of the grassroots work falls to wealthy social-conservative groups, such as Concerned Women for America and James Dobson's Focus on the Family, and the Judicial Confirmation Network. But the right's chief grassroots fundraiser on the judicial issue is an organization called "Progress for America," which came into being as a pro-Bush 527 in the 2004 campaign. During the recent filibuster row, Progress for America put out some $3 million worth of ads zinging the Democrats and defending Bush's nominees.

That may seem a hefty chunk of change. But consider that PFAW and its allies spent around $5 million on a pro-filibuster campaign. According to Business Week, MoveOnPAC, an outgrowth of the liberal web group, raised at least $1.3 million "nearly overnight" to save the filibuster. "The Democratic party's having trouble raising money," says veteran conservative leader Gary Bauer. "But not these left-wing activist groups."

Bauer regrets that, when it comes to judges, the right appears far less unified than the left. Why? "The business part of our coalition," he says, "all too often is AWOL." Traditionally, the business lobby has shied away from disputes over moral issues such as abortion. And many see the ongoing judicial struggle as an extension of the culture wars. "The anti-business groups on the left are very active," says Boyden Gray. "The pro-business groups on the other side are not." Nevertheless, he and Rushton both expect the National Association of Manufacturers to play a significant role in any Supreme Court battle.

And what a battle it will be. Last week, while Progress for America trumpeted plans to spend at least $18 million in support of Bush's choice, PFAW named its own Supreme Court Team. Not only will the liberal coalition resist adding another conservative to the bench. It may also fight Bush's elevation of Scalia or Thomas to chief justice. "I would hope that a majority of the Senate would defeat a Scalia or a Thomas nomination," Neas says. But if not, PFAW would support Democrats' "using any parliamentary option at their disposal, including the filibuster," to block a Scalia/Thomas ascension. Neas gets a bit cagier when the subject turns to Bush's new addition to the court. "I would rather not go into this," he says, "for strategic purposes."

Aron is much less guarded. I tick off a list of possible Supreme Court nominees and ask her whether each would be worthy of a Democratic filibuster. The Third Circuit's Samuel Alito? Yes. The Fifth Circuit's Emilio Garza? Yes. The Fourth Circuit's Michael Luttig? Yes. The Fifth Circuit's Edith Jones? Yes. The D.C. Circuit's John Roberts? Yes. The Fourth Circuit's Harvie Wilkinson? Yes. Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada? Yes. Senator John Cornyn? Yes. Senator Jon Kyl? Yes.

The only one Aron doesn't brand filibuster-worthy is Larry Thompson, George W. Bush's former deputy attorney general and now PepsiCo's general counsel. "We're still researching his record," she explains. Like Neas, she'd back a filibuster of Scalia or Thomas's elevation to chief justice. In general, Aron views any anti-Roe nominee to the federal bench as constituting an "extraordinary circumstance."

As the liberal coalition mobilizes, replenishes its war chest, and gears up for all-out combat, what might the White House do to prepare a response? Bring in a Supreme Court point man. The first Bush administration, Gray says, recruited ex-Reagan chief of staff Ken Duberstein as a "special government employee" to assist with the confirmations of Justice Thomas and Justice David Souter. Duberstein counted votes, marshaled support, played the PR game, and organized debate prep. "He was everywhere," Gray recalls.

Gray, who has close ties to Karl Rove and GOP Senate leader Bill Frist, expects the current Bush White House to replicate that strategy. "I think the plan is there," he says. But Bauer is less certain. "Karl [Rove] is a smart guy, so presumably he knows how devastating it would be if the president was unable to get a solid, open conservative on the Supreme Court." But do they have a strategy? Says Bauer, "I just don't see much."

Duncan Currie is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

Chris Dickson said...

"The launch of a new strategy today to focus on Ms. Miers's qualifications is another failed message. A nomination that invites a discussion of qualifications is a nomination that is in serious trouble. The last such high court nomination was Judge Carswell's. He was rejected by the Senate for being unqualified even though he was found to be "qualified" by the ABA. Two weeks ago I predicted what many conservatives would think about the Miers nomination, and I blamed it on a failed vetting process. I described the reasons why conservatives would feel betrayed."

"Two weeks later, the nomination's friends have been its worst enemies. But the reasons for the betrayal have not been addressed. Ms. Miers is still not the nominee that best represents the mandate that the President received from his supporters. This includes not just the Republican base, it most importantly also includes the Democratic swing voters who vote for Republicans for only one reason- the Supreme Court. Two weeks later, the president's nominee is not confirmable because her nomination invites both Democrats and Republicans to abandon their respective high grounds on the battle for the courts. It invites Republicans in the Senate and House to abandon their hopes for the 2006 election."

"The nomination should be withdrawn and the president should take a better second shot before he is further embarrassed.."

Third Branch Conference