Conservative Group Campaigns Against Miers

A new ad campaign is opposing the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. But unlike the campaign opposing John Roberts' nomination, this one is coming from a conservative group: Americans for Better Justice.

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Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers' redone questionnaire is due back on Capitol Hill today. Senators of both parties were so unhappy with her answers the first time around they asked her to try again. Meanwhile, conservative opposition to Miers' nomination seems to be solidifying, starting with a television ad scheduled to air this evening. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY reporting:

The administration's steadfast defense of Harriet Miers continued yesterday. White House spokesman Scott McClellan fended off critical questions.

Mr. SCOTT McCLELLAN (White House Spokesman): She is going to be going before the Senate Judiciary Committee in less than two weeks. She looks forward to answering their questions and I think that people should not try to rush to judgment on it.

OVERBY: But the rush is already on. Today a group of disaffected conservatives launch a new TV ad and petition drive. They call themselves Americans for Better Justice. They suggest they're opposing President Bush more in sorrow than in anger.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Woman: Even the best leaders make mistakes. Conservatives support President Bush, but not Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

OVERBY: The ad continues, citing statements by Judge Robert Bork and talk show host Rush Limbaugh. The usual creepy attack-ad music plays in the background.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Woman: America deserves better. Go to betterjustice.com. Urge President Bush to withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers.

OVERBY: So who is Americans for Better Justice? Its public face is a board of nine people. They include columnist Mona Charen, conservative activist Linda Chavez and a former Bush speechwriter, David Frum.

Mr. DAVID FRUM (Americans for Better Justice): There are a group of a couple dozen people who have put in significant amounts of money and others who have put in much smaller amounts. How hard is it to raise the money? I mean, it sort of raised itself.

OVERBY: Frum says the group is growing quickly and it has rounded up pledges of about $300,000. There's no way to verify that figure or any other dollar amount claimed by groups in these judicial confirmation fights. The groups operate under tax rules that don't require any meaningful financial disclosure. And this ad could trigger a lot of spending. Two icons of the conservative movement, Richard Viguerie and Phyllis Schlafly, this week helped launch a Web site called WithdrawMiers.org. It invites people to sign a petition and to leave anonymous tips on the Miers nomination.

The leading group supporting Miers is Progress for America. It hasn't been on TV since the day after the president announced his choice. Progress for America spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger says they're concentrating right now on grass roots and on bringing people who can vouch for Miers to Capitol Hill. But she says the new ad attacking Miers could call for an answer.

The left, too, has been quiet. One of the two big liberal advocates against Miers was expected to be People for the American Way. The group hasn't taken an official stand. A spokeswoman said they're waiting for the hearings. The other leading group, the Alliance for Justice, hasn't announced its position, either. The president of the alliance is Nan Aron.

Ms. NAN ARON (President, Alliance for Justice): We cannot produce an ad if--or even think about putting out ads until we have enough information about her record, and at this point we just simply don't have that information.

OVERBY: Of course, senators say TV ads don't influence them, but one undecided Republican, Trent Lott, says the new attack ad can't be good news for the Bush administration.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): I have a job to do and I'm going to do it, but I do think it is a factor that has to be considered for the White House. They want support, not opposition, so it's not a positive, huh?

OVERBY: The way this is unfolding could hardly be more different from what the advocacy groups expected for a Supreme Court fight. At Justice at Stake, a group that opposes politics in judicial nominations, director Bert Brandenburg says that fights over Supreme Court nominations have become predictable. Everyone knows what role they're supposed to play. That was true with the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts last month, but not anymore.

Mr. BERT BRANDENBURG (Justice at Stake): The great difference between the two nominations politically is that the Roberts nomination operated according to a script that people have prepared for for years. The Miers nomination has torn up the script, thrown it out. There is no script right now to work from. Everybody is improvising.

OVERBY: Which means the new TV ad trying to undermine Miers but not the man who picked her, is taking the advocacy groups into new political terrain.

Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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