Groups Prepare For Sotomayor Battle

Less than 24 hours after the president nominated Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, activist groups on the left and right shifted into gear. A cottage industry has formed around attacking and defending the nominee.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

The fight to define Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor has began.

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President BARACK OBAMA: I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind…

BLOCK: That's from the first television ad defending Sotomayor from a coalition of groups supporting her nomination. Organizations that oppose her have been mobilizing too. NPR's Ari Shapiro has this survey of the battlefield.

ARI SHAPIRO: The opposition has not yet bought television time. Instead, conservatives went to the Web.

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Unidentified Woman #1: So what is she saying?

Unidentified Woman #2: Court of Appeals is where policy is made, and I know when I know this is…

SHAPIRO: The Judicial Confirmation Network created this ad. Director Gary Marks says this battle is very different from the last two under President Bush.

Mr. GARY MARKS (Director, Judicial Confirmation Network): This time we are not working with an administration or a sitting president on what we hope would be a nominee of judicial restraint.

SHAPIRO: This time his group is attacking rather than defending the nominee.

Mr. MARKS: We want to make sure that now that the Obama administration has vetted her behind closed doors, she has been brought out for the American public and the American public can vet her, her record, her own words.

SHAPIRO: The words that have received the most attention from opponents are lifted out of his speech Sotomayor made in 2001. She said: I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experience would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life. Today, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and other conservatives activists called that comment racist. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs responded.

Mr. ROBERT GIBBS (Press Secretary, White House): I think we can all move past YouTube snippets in half sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record of these nominees.

SHAPIRO: Groups on both sides have stock piles of money on hand to wage this war. And some Republicans are concerned about the direction the fight is heading.

Mr. FRANK GUERRA (Republican Strategist): If they begin to say things that sound as though this is a little bit of, you know, beating up on Hispanics then we begin to step into some problem areas.

SHAPIRO: Frank Guerra is a Republican strategist in Texas who specializes in helping candidates win over his Hispanic voters.

Mr. GUERRA: I think what we saw in the last election cycle were his Hispanics responding to some of the very strong rhetoric that was out there. And, you know, Republicans, as they decide what it is they're going to say and how they're going to say it and what form they're going to say it, they're going to have to weigh that moment against what the future implications are going to be, particularly in states with very large Hispanic populations where they are the swing vote.

SHAPIRO: There is a real difference between lawmakers and activists. Activists don't have to win elections. So Republican senators are caught between not wanting to alienate their base and not wanting to alienate Hispanic swing voters. This makes some Democrats feel pretty confident. There is a broad coalition of activist groups waging the fight to confirm judge Sotomayor.

Mr. WADE HENDERSON (Center for Constitutional Values): We think it's important that the American people get to see an unvarnished view of judge Sotomayor.

SHAPIRO: Wade Henderson leads the Center for Constitutional Values.

Mr. HENDERSON: We know that in the past there have been efforts to distort the records of many nominees to the court. We are however quite confident that in the final analysis, both with the White House support for her nomination and confirmation, but also in the way her record has been presented to the American people, there will be no distortion.

SHAPIRO: So if there's so much confidence why are people dumping massive amounts of cash into this battle? Guy Cecil(ph) is a Democratic strategist who is not working on the Sotomayor fight. He says both sides have a broader agenda here.

Mr. GUY CECIL (Democratic Strategist): One of the benefits of these types of fights - in the same way that it was a benefit for the stimulus fight and for other things that are going to happen in the legislature over the course of the next few years - is that it does continue to build and activate the large grassroots showing that Obama had in the last election.

SHAPIRO: Not to mention the Senate is predictably unpredictable. And if there's a bomb shell in the confirmation process nobody wants to be unprepared.

Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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