A Lifetime Investment: Big Money Pours Into Supreme Court Battle
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now to another major battle. President Trump hasn't yet nominated a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, but the fight over confirming that nominee has already begun. It's going to be intense and expensive. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The first ad went online the afternoon that Kennedy gave notice. It's from the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative nonprofit.
(SOUNDBITE OF JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK ADVERTISEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Like they did before, extremists will lie and attack the nominee. But don't be fooled. President Trump's list includes the best of the best. And with your help...
OVERBY: Carrie Severino has been with the Judicial Crisis Network since 2010. She said ads will get more specific once Trump chooses the nominee. She also said liberal attacks on Republican nominees have gotten kind of predictable.
CARRIE SEVERINO: We've seen it. This has become part of their playbook to do character assassination and distortions of people's records. And we want to make sure there's someone there to defend the nominee who is not really in a position to defend him or herself.
OVERBY: Plenty of other conservative groups are mobilizing, too - the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity, the Susan B. Anthony fund, Heritage Action.
SEVERINO: There are well over a hundred different organizations, grassroots groups on the center-right libertarian who are very excited about this nomination.
OVERBY: The obvious flashpoint on the nomination is the abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade. Kennedy has upheld abortion rights. Trump has promised justices who will overturn Roe. Adrienne Kimmell is vice president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She said the organization's one and a half million members will be contacting senators.
ADRIENNE KIMMELL: Any nominee that they vote on of Trump's is a vote to overturn Roe. Like, that is our focus, to ensure that that message is communicated.
OVERBY: Supreme Court nominees are almost always confirmed. But some liberal groups say this won't be like other confirmation fights. Kristine Lucius is with The Leadership Conference, an umbrella group of more than 200 organizations supporting civil and human rights.
KRISTINE LUCIUS: This president - different than others - has clear litmus test and has a shortlist of 25 nominees who have all passed those litmus tests. And two of those litmus tests go directly to access to health care.
OVERBY: That is, abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act. The Leadership Conference points to an interview Trump gave to Boston Public Radio station WGBH early in 2016. He was talking about tests for new Supreme Court justices.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're going to have a very strong test, but we want good, strong conservative people that are extremely smart.
OVERBY: He talked about Chief Justice John Roberts, a Republican appointee.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
TRUMP: I'm disappointed in Roberts because he gave us Obamacare. You know, he had two chances to end Obamacare. He should have ended it by every single measurement, and he didn't do it. So that was a very disappointing one.
OVERBY: With health care and the debate, Lucius said this battle will look more like Trump's attempts to repeal Obamacare, which the Senate rejected.
LUCIUS: I think you're going to see more passion, more people demanding the Senate saying no.
OVERBY: To have this high-decibel debate, each side is expected to spend tens of millions of dollars. That kind of money can win you a Senate seat. But a Senate term only goes for six years. The Supreme Court bench is good for a lifetime. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.