Sunday, January 30, 2005

Supporters of President Bush’s judicial nominees have hired the same media firm used by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for their efforts to defend the next nominee for any upcoming Supreme Court vacancy.

The aggressive media style of Creative Response Concepts (CRC) will be met by a “war room” already set up by the liberal People For the American Way (PFAW) on the other side, indicating that the next Supreme Court fight is likely to be one of the nastiest in history.

“There is nothing more important — if and when it happens — than a Supreme Court nomination,” said PFAW President Ralph G. Neas, standing in the 2,500-square-foot room of the organization’s M Street building.

The room is equipped with telephones, desks and 36 computers — enough for the 75 paid staff members and 50 volunteers he expects to run it.

Mr. Neas declined to say how much money his group is spending on the command center, except to say it’s “the major institutional commitment this year.”

“Ralph Neas has been waiting for this battle since his last Supreme Court battle years ago,” said Greg Mueller, president of CRC. “We don’t even have a vacancy or a nominee and these left-wing organizations are already organizing war rooms.”

CRC made a splash in the summer promoting the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group that questioned the legitimacy of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry’s war medals, his claims about his Vietnam War service, and his anti-war stance upon returning to the United States.

The group has been hired into the judicial battle by the Federalist Society, the influential conservative judicial organization from which many of Mr. Bush’s nominees have been picked.

“This doesn’t surprise me,” Mr. Neas said of the Federalist Society’s hiring of CRC. “It just proves the point I’ve been making for years: It’s a right-wing organization that is very political and very partisan.”

Mr. Mueller said the Federalist Society’s role in the nomination fight will be to “educate people” about the possible nominees. To that end, the society has created a list of legal analysts to talk to reporters.

“All the people on the list are seasoned legal minds,” he said. Many on the list, Mr. Mueller said, are former clerks to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Justice Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas — all conservatives after whom Mr. Bush has said he will model any Supreme Court nominees.

The Federalist Society also will write executive summaries of the nominees.

“They are purely educational, not only for the press, but also for the organizations out there that want to learn more,” Mr. Mueller said.

On Capitol Hill, both Democrats and Republicans have begun mobilizing for any vacancy with extensive meetings and planning sessions with outside groups.

Most speculation centers on Chief Justice Rehnquist, 80, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last year and has been working from home during his aggressive treatment. Also being watched is Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, 74, who has reportedly confided some interest in retiring.

Justice John Paul Stevens, 84, one of the court’s most liberal members, is being watched as well.

Democrats say privately that one reason they have no plans to filibuster Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales is that they want to reserve enough political capital to lodge one against a Supreme Court nominee.

“If [the next nominee] is someone in the mode of Thomas or Scalia, we’ll oppose that nominee,” said Mr. Neas, echoing the sentiments of many Democrats on the Hill. “And I think they’ll be defeated.”

Mr. Mueller said PFAW’s tactic in the past has been to “run character-assassination campaigns” against Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees. “We expect they will try that again.”

“Unless the president is going to nominate Ted Kennedy or some ACLU lawyer, Ralph Neas is not going to be happy,” he said.

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