With President Obama expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee soon, judicial interest groups are building their dossiers on potential candidates, digging up past rulings, video clips and anything else that could speak to how an appointee might rule on contentious social issues.
Once that person is named, conservatives will have their cannons primed and ready, having already done weeks of planning on how to counter Mr. Obama’s pick.
The Judicial Confirmation Network launched a Web site, obamasfrontrunners.com, and a series of Web ads targeting Solicitor General Elena Kagan, 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood and 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
The ads - which can be seen only on the Internet - feature an ominous soundtrack and recount of some of the three women’s rulings or statements.
“Diane Wood, who ruled that our Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom does not extend to students who want to gather together and pray or study the Bible on their law school campus,” says the narrator in one ad, as pictures of students and protesters appear under an imposing black-and-white photo of Ms. Wood.
In the weeks since Justice David H. Souter announced that he would retire, handing Mr. Obama his first Supreme Court nomination, interest groups have been digging through old C-SPAN clips and Web videos to find some insight - and ammunition - into prospective nominees’ judicial philosophy.
YouTube, which was still in its infancy during the confirmation battles over Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. from late 2005 to early to 2006, has become an essential searching tool, with hundreds of grainy clips of the potential nominees from as long as a decade ago.
A video circulating the Internet has Ms. Sotomayor of New York jokingly referring to whether judges set policy from the bench. Questions of whether the third branch of government should legislate from the bench have been hot topics for conservative activists.
“The court of appeals is where policy is made, and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don’t make law,” Ms. Sotomayor said to laughter from the audience. “I’m not promoting it; I’m not advocating it.”
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and a longtime member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Fox News earlier this month that he would have trouble with Ms. Sotomayor if that is her philosophy.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said Sunday that the president likely would announce a successor for Justice Souter within days.
“I’ve been told it is likely to come this week, but I don’t know which day,” Mr. Durbin told NBC’s “Meet the Press” as the president entered a fourth week of considering possibilities.
Liberal activists, who now find themselves on the other side of the confirmation battle from when they were trying to block President Bush’s nominees, have been relatively quiet as they wait to see whom Mr. Obama chooses.
The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, People for the American Way and the Alliance For Justice have spent most of their efforts thus far countering conservatives’ charges. Spokespeople for the three groups declined to discuss their strategies for this article.
People for the American Way pulled apart conservative arguments in an online policy paper, “Right Wing Follows Deceptive Script on Supreme Court.”
“Right-wing leaders have not been able to resist grossly distorting then-candidate and now-President Obama’s call for judges who exhibit empathy for average citizens. They’ve been eager to suggest that Obama is looking for judges who pay no attention to the Constitution or law and simply make decisions based on their feelings,” the group wrote.
The Internet battles are but the first salvo, as groups prepare to launch television ads once Mr. Obama makes his pick.
“The nature of this Internet-based campaign is, you need flexibility because President Obama could name someone this afternoon,” said Gary Marx, executive director of the Judicial Confirmation Network.
With the end of the Supreme Court’s term, and Justice Souter’s retirement, coming at the end of June, the White House has more than three months to shepherd the pick through the firestorm of public attacks and congressional inquiry.