- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 6, 2005

The long-anticipated air wars over President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court have gone off with something of a whimper.

Liberal groups had waited for years for a high court vacancy and were on call to paint President Bush’s first nominee as a Neanderthal. But, so far, their money has been spent far more cautiously than expected, mainly on demands to make public more documents and the need to know where Judge John G. Roberts Jr. stands on certain hot-button political issues.

On the conservative side, Progress for America (PFA) ran commercials praising Judge Roberts’ nomination immediately after it was announced. But conservative groups say they see no need to respond to the documents charges and instead are planning on “keeping our powder dry.”

“They haven’t been able to make any significant chinks in the armor. If things continue this way, there’s certainly no point in us paying for a landslide,” said Wendy E. Long, counsel to the Judicial Confirmation Network, one of the major conservative players in the confirmation battle.

Her group has $3 million to spend on advertising, but so far has not dipped into that fund. For its part, PFA — the best-funded conservative group — has budgeted $18 million and has spent $1.7 million.

“The money’s there, and if necessary, we’ll spend it,” said Jessica Boulanger, a spokeswoman for PFA.

Now both sides are concentrating their efforts in 20 or so key states, sending community leaders in to lobby senators who are at home for the August recess and trying to drum up support or opposition.

“It really doesn’t make much sense to be pushing anything nationally when senators are at home, and that is our focus — on the ground,” Mrs. Boulanger said.

The groups say they learned from liberals’ success in defeating Judge Robert Bork’s nomination to the high court in 1987 by grass-roots organizing against his nomination. The conservatives are countering with a grass-roots push of their own.

The effort includes having Judge Roberts’ supporters show up at town hall meetings and having community leaders ask for meetings with senators to urge support for the nomination. The groups also are arranging for surrogates to travel to target states to try to secure positive articles and editorials in local papers.

On the liberal side, the only ad released so far is “Right to Know,” a 30-second commercial from IndependentCourt.org, a consortium of liberal groups. It demands to know where Judge Roberts stands on “critical issues,” such as abortion.

“There is so much that we don’t know about John Roberts,” said Kelly Landis, spokeswoman for Alliance for Justice, a liberal judicial advocacy group. “In order to understand who he is as a nominee, we need to know where he stands and see those documents.”

But like Alliance for Justice, many of its allied groups have not even officially opposed Judge Roberts.

People for the American Way — possibly the most vocal of the liberal advocacy groups that often oppose Mr. Bush’s nominees — is now scouring Judge Roberts’ records and past to see whether it should officially recommend that he be defeated.

While the group has not taken an official position, it has sent clear signals. The many endorsements from various conservative leaders and organizations raises serious concerns about Judge Roberts, PFAW has said.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights — which is deeply suspicious of Judge Roberts, but has not issued a formal position on his nomination — has nonetheless set up a Web site allowing people to post pictures of themselves holding signs protesting Judge Roberts.

Like several other abortion-rights groups, NARAL Pro Choice has come out against Judge Roberts, but it has yet to wage a major campaign beyond its network of supporters. NARAL has created “Supreme Court Action Kits” containing everything one might need to contact one’s senator, “educate” one’s friends and neighbors, and alert local media about opposing Judge Roberts.

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