High Court Advocacy Groups Gear for Fight

Political interest groups who will be affected by the selection of a new Supreme Court justice have already sprung into action. Activists want to make sure people know what's at stake in the decision of who should succeed Sandra Day O'Connor.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Moments after Justice O'Connor announced her retirement, dozens of interest groups launched campaigns to influence the selection of her successor. NPR's Larry Abramson reports.

Unidentified Man: One, two. One, two. Check one, one, one.

LARRY ABRAMSON reporting:

Like race horses straining to be first out of the gate, groups from across the political spectrum rushed to seize the momentum. They blasted out e-mails, re-jiggered Web sites and threw together news conferences.

Ms. KAREN PEARL (Interim President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America): Good afternoon. I'm Karen Pearl and I'm the interim president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

ABRAMSON: At a news conference at the Capitol, Planned Parenthood and other groups focused on abortion rights took the lead. They proclaim their fondness for Justice O'Connor, who upheld abortion rights more than once and they said the threat to those rights could not be overstated.

Ms. PEARL: This may be one of the most critical and dangerous moments for the future of women's reproductive freedoms that any of us have seen in our lifetimes.

ABRAMSON: Groups devoted to civil rights and affirmative action echoed these thoughts and said they were just as worried about losing O'Connor's swing vote. The said the president has a choice. He can go for a consensus nominee as President Reagan did when he appointed Justice O'Connor in 1981 or Ralph Neas of People for the American Way said the president can make another choice.

Mr. RALPH NEAS (People for the American Way): If this mainstream conservative, Sandra Day O'Connor, is replaced with the right-wing ideologue in the mold of Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, it would mean a constitutional catastrophe.

ABRAMSON: And that is exactly the kind of nominee that conservative groups say the president promised them during the presidential campaign. At another news conference across town, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said he was not sorry to see O'Connor go since her vote had swung the wrong way on issues from abortion to religious expression.

Mr. TONY PERKINS (Family Research Council): Now this past week, Justice O'Connor sided with the judicial activists on the court that ruled against the public display of the Ten Commandments on public property.

ABRAMSON: Perkins promised to mobilize 20,000 churches in an effort to make sure that O'Connor's successor is struck from a different mold. If the president follows their advice, conservative groups know that a Senate fight is almost certain. The Family Research Council's Connie Mackey vowed to counter the kind of attacks that laid low another darling of the right, Robert Bork.

Mr. CONNIE MACKEY (Family Research Council): I think that the social issue groups as well as the fiscal conservative groups are determined that they're not going to see a Bork-ing of any nominee that would be a good constitutionalist.

ABRAMSON: Anticipating the congressional battle ahead, a group called Progress for America rushed an ad on to the Web featuring a mock newscast about a nominee beleaguered by attacks from Democrats.

(Soundbite from ad)

Unidentified Woman: Some Democrats will attack any Supreme Court nominee, but past attacks have been called a smear and dishonest.

Unidentified Man #1: The president nominated George Washington for the Supreme Court. Democrats immediately attacked Washington for his environmental record of

Unidentified Man #2: Timber!

Unidentified Man #1: ...chopping down cherry trees.

ABRAMSON: Groups on both sides had a head start. They've been preparing for a Supreme Court fight for months sparked by the expected retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist and by the battle over judicial filibusters in the Senate. Now they have to keep the pressure on until confirmation hearings, which may not begin until September. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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