- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2009

Republicans are going on offense to tarnish potential Supreme Court justice hopefuls, attempting to spark an early fight over President Obama’s first nomination to the high court.

As the Republican Party’s leader mocked on the Sunday talk shows Mr. Obama’s desire for a justice with “empathy,” the White House showed it means business by naming a rough-and-tumble political aide to lead the battle for the expected nominee.

“I need a judge who’s going to take the Constitution, apply the facts, apply the law and come to a reasoned, sound judgment,” Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele said on NBC’s “Meet the Press. “I don’t need a judge to look at an African-American standing before him and go off on some, you know, liberal tangent about, ‘Oh, gee, I wonder what his life was like as a child.’ ”

In countering Mr. Steele, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the Democratic National Committee chairman, called it a fundamental philosophical difference.

“Empathy is the ability to understand how an opinion written in an closed chamber actually gets played out in real people’s lives,” he said.

Mr. Steele said Republicans don’t oppose empathy, but don’t want a justice “who may have a bad day or be overly sensitive to my condition.”

Conservative activists intent on opposing Mr. Obama’s nominee - likely to be announced by the end of this month - are raising money to prepare for the fight and will strategize on a Monday conference call.

The conservatives are poised with opposition research, ready to remind senators tasked with confirmation hearings that Mr. Obama is the first president in history to have cast “No” votes against Supreme Court nominees.

Stephanie Cutter, a veteran of Supreme Court battles, presidential campaigns and political press strategy, is leaving her post at the Treasury Department to coordinate the nomination and will serve as an adviser to Mr. Obama, according to an administration official speaking on the condition of anonymity because it is a personnel decision.

She was a longtime adviser to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, and was a top spokeswoman for Sen. John Kerry when the Massachusetts Democrat ran for president in 2004. She also led the Democratic opposition to the nominations of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in 2005 and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in 2006, both of whom Mr. Obama voted against while in the Senate.

Ms. Cutter also has been a loyal Obama adviser for more than a year - serving on Michelle Obama’s staff during the campaign and acting as chief spokeswoman during the presidential transition.

Simon Lazarus, public policy counsel with the Federal Rights Project of the National Senior Citizens Law Center, said it’s clear Republicans are positioning themselves to oppose the nominee strongly, no matter who it is.

“Politics of the courts and judicial nominations became dramatically more polarized” over the past decade, he noted. He said that when President Clinton was considering his options, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, helped influence the Democrat’s decision.

“It’s entirely possible he did influence Bill Clinton. He let it be known … he thought they were good choices,” Mr. Lazarus said.

Mr. Obama is reaching out to both parties as he considers his options, but Mr. Lazarus said it’s unlikely Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, ranking Republican on the judiciary panel, would be able to “nudge” a Democratic president in a similar way.

A source close to the Republican battle said the National Republican Senatorial Committee has experienced an uptick in fundraising, with one 45-minute breakfast yielding a $200,000 commitment, and outside groups have raised several million dollars in anticipation of the vacancy coming up.

Wendy Long and Gary Marx of the Judicial Confirmation Network penned a memo for activists on the issue last week, predicting, “The first Obama nominee to the Supreme Court will be hailed by Democrats, liberal interest groups and many in the media as a ‘moderate.’ No matter how liberal, activist, or extreme she may be.”

They said they have crafted a video to “expose the liberal activist records of those who have been named as front-runners to fill Justice [David H.] Souter’s seat.”

Scott Wheeler, executive director for the National Republican Trust PAC, sent a letter to Republican senators, warning that activists “will hold them accountable” for the nomination process, so they should “keep steadfast and stay true to your Republican conservative values and beliefs.”

Mr. Wheeler also went after Mr. Obama’s empathy standards, saying that because they “have nothing to do with interpreting the law or the rule of law … It is up to you and your fellow Republican colleagues to stop such a nomination.”

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