Partisans Gear Up for Confirmation

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Lobbying groups on both sides of the political divide have been gearing up for a fight on a Supreme Court nominee. Now that Judge John Roberts is known as President Bush's choice, observers are watching to see if a pitched battle over a nominee materializes.


In the struggle for control of the federal judiciary, activist groups on both sides are sitting on millions of dollars. It had been socked away for the day that President Bush nominated a new Supreme Court justice. Well, that day has come, and as NPR's Peter Overby reports, the opening volleys of the lobbying campaigns seem surprisingly muted.

Group of Women: (In unison) What do we want? Choice! When do we want it? Now!

PETER OVERBY reporting:

It's no surprise that the National Organization for Women and Feminist Majority Foundation held a demonstration this morning outside one of the Senate office buildings.

Group of Women: (In unison) What do we want? Choice!

OVERBY: What was surprising was the number of demonstrators, about 50. Organizers said they just didn't have much time to put things together after last night's announcement. Conservatives got off to a rough start, too. The Family Research Council and Focus on the Family held a telephone press conference today. James Dobson of Focus on the Family started to give his opening statement, praising the brilliant mind and impeccable qualifications of Judge John Roberts.

Dr. JAMES DOBSON (Focus on the Family): Most importantly, we believe that Judge Roberts will interpret the Constitution and not try to...

Unidentified Man #1: ...(Unintelligible) but just whatever.

Dr. DOBSON: Hello?

Unidentified Man #2: We're here.

Dr. DOBSON: Well, somebody's talking, so I don't know what's going on.

OVERBY: But both sides clearly had their talking points in order. Dobson finally got to finish his thought that Roberts wouldn't legislate from the bench. Then Dobson turned over the telephone to Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. He said Roberts is intellectually powerful and committed to the rule of law.

Mr. TONY PERKINS (President Family Research Council): And from all indications, he is determined not to legislate from the bench.

OVERBY: Talking points among progressives were equally predictable. At the demonstration, NOW President Kim Gandy compared Roberts to the highly ideological and dramatically unsuccessful Supreme Court nominee of 1987, Robert Bork.

Ms. KIM GANDY (President, National Organization for Women): John G. Roberts may look mild mannered, but he's nothing more than a Bork in sheep's clothing.

OVERBY: Later in the day Ralph Neas, director for People for the American Way, had his own comparison.

Mr. RALPH NEAS (Director, People for the American Way): In my gut, I believe that John Roberts is Antonin Scalia in sheep's clothing.

OVERBY: But if it seems that interest groups are going through the motions right now, don't count on that lasting too long. Ralph Neas says he expects the battle to be joined slowly, and he's not yet sure how much his group will spend from its war chest. He did say he expects liberals to be outspent. But he points out that earlier this year they quickly raised $5 million and, in his view, won the battle over filibustering judicial nominees.

Mr. NEAS: We did that in about a 10-week period of time, and public opinion moved 20 points during those 10 weeks, thanks to us and our allies and our Senate champions.

OVERBY: The progressive groups have about seven weeks till the Senate returns from its August recess. And while they're trying to move poll numbers, so are the conservatives.

(Soundbite of Progress for America advertisement)

Unidentified Man: Shouldn't a fair judge be treated fairly? Urge the Senate to give John Roberts a fair up-or-down vote.

OVERBY: Progress for America, a heavily financed conservative group, says you'll be able to see this ad on national cable TV starting tonight. It's part of a one-week, million-dollar campaign. Progress for America seems to be the most likely big spender here. It claims to have $18 million available to help Roberts win confirmation if he needs it.

But in a new poll by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, just 3 percent said they had been contacted so far by anyone asking them for support in the Supreme Court battle. Brian McCabe, president of Progress for America, sees that as fertile ground for the advocacy groups.

Mr. BRIAN McCABE (President, Progress for America): I would think, you know, with the news in the last couple days, more people are going to definitely be more focused and pay attention to it. And it's a good opportunity for us to get our message out and get it before them.

OVERBY: Coming soon to a television, computer screen or a mailbox near you. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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