The ads are up, the grass-roots have been activated, and money is
flooding pressure-group coffers. Talk radio and cable TV are alive
with sound and fury at a turning point in American history.
In many ways, the battle over who will replace Sandra Day
O'Connor on the Supreme Court has the look and feel of an election
campaign - and, to further the analogy, right now it's the
primaries. But there's a big difference: the audience. Ultimately,
voters have no direct say in whom President Bush nominates or
whether the Senate will confirm him or her.
The goal, on both the left and the right, is to exert indirect
pressure on officials - much the way interest groups get revved up
with ads and e-mails over hot legislative topics, such as Social
Security. Individual senators, especially those looking at tough
reelection fights, will indeed pay attention to the opinions of
their voters during confirmation.
But in this nomination phase, with all eyes on the White House,
how much influence do activist groups have - especially the social
conservatives concerned that Mr. Bush might nominate Attorney
General Alberto Gonzales, whom they see as "unreliable"? "President
Bush already knows what he needs to know," says Kathleen Hall
Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the
University of Pennsylvania. "This White House information operation
is the most sophisticated in history."
For now, liberal activists are making their own arguments on
nomination, starting with a call for Bush to consult with the
Democrats and then select a consensus nominee. Consultation, or at
least the appearance of consultation, is easy. On Monday, Bush meets
with key senators from both parties to talk Supreme Court. But no
one honestly expects a consensus nominee to emerge.
Once Bush puts forth a name, the true left-right battle will be
joined. And, analysts say, the interest-group scenario will look
like a form of mutually assured destruction. Neither side wants to
cede the battlefield. If both sides remain armed, there's a
standoff. Ditto if they both disarm. But in the Supreme Court
battle, that won't happen, because of the perceived political
advantage in fighting the fight.
If Bush nominates a strong conservative who satisfies his
political base, is it still possible that the liberal groups can
sufficiently twist public perception and jeopardize confirmation?
Manuel Miranda, organizer of the conservative judicial-
nomination umbrella group Third Branch Conference, says he
approaches that question like a lawyer. …