Left and Right Prepare to Do Battle ; Special Interest Groups Unite to Put Pressure on Lawmakers in Court Fight

By Lipton, Eric | International New York Times, March 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Left and Right Prepare to Do Battle ; Special Interest Groups Unite to Put Pressure on Lawmakers in Court Fight


Lipton, Eric, International New York Times


A diverse range of special interest groups are fully engaged in the battle, with many setting aside longstanding tensions to ensure their side wins.

More than 100 protest rallies have been scheduled in key electoral states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Iowa. Television advertisements are being scripted. Twitter and Facebook campaigns are rolling out, and email blasts are filling up inboxes.

With President Obama's nomination of Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, advocacy groups from the left and the right are now fully engaged in what both sides agree will be a highly contentious Supreme Court nomination fight -- even if the Senate never formally considers the president's choice.

"Bork and Thomas, those were titanic battles," said Curt A. Levey, the executive director of FreedomWorks Foundation, a conservative group, referring to the Supreme Court nomination fights over Robert H. Bork in 1987 and Clarence Thomas in 1991. "I think this will be the biggest battle of all."

Wade Henderson, the president of the liberal Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, who has worked on Supreme Court nomination fights since Justice Thomas was confirmed, agreed. "There is recognition of what is at stake," Mr. Henderson said.

Part of the intensity is a reflection of the enormous and diverse range of special interest groups that have decided to engage in this fight, which will be the first in an age in which social media has become a dominant force. In many cases, the groups have set aside longstanding tensions that have prevented them from teaming up in a unified way.

On the right, conservative groups like Heritage Action, which have in the past sparred with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and majority leader, are already working closely with his office to back up his call that the Senate should wait until the next president is sworn in to fill the court vacancy. Judge Garland was approved by the Senate to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a 76-to-23 vote in 1997.

"It is different than a lot of the fights over the last five or six years," said Dan Holler, a Heritage Action spokesman. "The unity on the right is pretty remarkable and encouraging."

On the left, environmental, gay rights, women's rights and civil rights groups, as well as labor unions, Democratic political activists and grass-roots organizers like Credo and MoveOn.org, have teamed up -- with regular conference calls and meetings organized by top former Obama aides and consulting firms, preparing to blast a single message to the Senate nationwide: #DoYourJob.

"There is an incredibly diverse and deep coalition of organizations that have left their institutional egos at the door and have come together for the purpose of advancing a unified goal," said Mr. Henderson, whose civil rights organization hosted leaders from 30 to 40 groups at its offices last Friday as they prepared to step up the campaign.

Those involved see the push as a win-win for liberal causes: If the Senate Republicans decline to hold hearings or vote on Judge Garland, they are convinced the wave of protests they are busy organizing will help Democrats pick up at least some Senate seats.

"If we apply enough political pressure, McConnell will see the majority slipping out of his hands and he will relent," said Brad Woodhouse, president of the progressive advocacy group Americans United for Change. "If not, we are still going to extract a political price and we will just do this all next year with President Clinton."

Many of the liberal events, at least according to the plan, are going to feature speakers like construction workers or nurses -- to emphasize the "Do your job" theme. …

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