- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A network of conservative activists is planning a $10 million campaign to fight for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, an appointment that could come within days.

The Judicial Crisis Network, which aided Republican senators last year in blocking President Obama’s high court nominee, Chief Judge Merrick Garland of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, now will turn its pressure campaign against vulnerable Senate Democrats who are up for re-election next year.

“We are preparing to launch the most robust campaign for a Supreme Court nominee in history, and we will force vulnerable senators up for re-election in 2018 like Joe Donnelly [of Indiana] and Claire McCaskill [of Missouri] to decide between keeping their Senate seats or following Chuck Schumer’s liberal, obstructionist agenda,” said Carrie Severino, the Judicial Crisis Network’s chief counsel and policy director.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat, is the Senate minority leader and has vowed to do all he can to stop the confirmation of Mr. Trump’s eventual nominee.

The campaign will include paid advertising, grass-roots pressure and other activities.

The Supreme Court has had a vacancy since the death last February of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Mr. Trump has promised to nominate a conservative to fill Scalia’s seat. The president-elect reportedly met Saturday with Judge William Pryor, who serves on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and is a former attorney general of Alabama.

Mr. Trump said last week that he expects to nominate a Supreme Court justice within two weeks of his inauguration. People who have been in contact with Mr. Trump’s transition team say the nomination could come at any time, even on Friday.

“It’s important to do it quickly,” Ms. Severino said in an interview. “It is a priority of this administration and something that was key to this election. Given the normal pace of a Supreme Court nomination, if we do have an announcement around the inauguration, it would be possible for the justice then to sit on cases this term that are scheduled for April.”

Curt Levey, a legal affairs specialist at the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks who is familiar with the Trump team’s strategy, said a nomination is more likely to come in two to three weeks, after a confirmation vote on Attorney General-nominee Jeff Sessions. He said the average Supreme Court confirmation takes about three months, and Democrats aren’t likely to heed a Republican call to expedite the process.

“There’s just no way that the nominee is going to be on the court in time to hear and decide any cases this term,” he said.

Mr. Trump is believed to have winnowed down his original list of 21 potential nominees to a handful of candidates, including Judge Pryor, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, and Judges Thomas Hardiman of the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Raymond Kethledge of the 6th Circuit, Diane Sykes of the 7th Circuit, Steve Colloton of the 8th Circuit and Neal Gorsuch of the 10th Circuit.

The nominee will be considered for the vacancy that Mr. Obama tried to fill by nominating Judge Garland in March. Senate Republicans refused to grant him a hearing, saying they wanted the incoming president to fill the vacancy.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday that the Senate Republicans’ strategy “ended up being good politics for them.” But he said Senate Democrats won’t forget the treatment of Judge Garland and predicted “a lengthy process” for Mr. Trump’s nominee.

“Republicans did not evaluate Chief Judge Garland on the merits,” Mr. Earnest said. “That is going to undermine any sort of principled argument that Republican senators may make in support of President Trump’s nominee. If Democrats are in a position to filibuster the nomination of President Trump’s nominee, that will mean that President Trump’s nominee got a hearing. That will mean that President Trump’s nominee came up for a vote on the floor of the United States Senate. That will mean that Democrats have considered the career and quality and competence and character of President Trump’s nominee. Republicans in the Senate didn’t do any of those things with regard to Merrick Garland.”

Judge Pryor could face the most difficult confirmation battle because of his criticism of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, said John Malcolm, an analyst on legal issues at the conservative Heritage Foundation who has consulted with Trump officials on potential nominees.

“There may be enough Democrats who are so single-issue focused that they might be able to successfully mount a filibuster against him,” Mr. Malcolm said. “Even if Pryor got confirmed, nothing would change with respect to abortion, because all you would be doing is returning to the status quo that existed before Anthony Scalia died.”

Eight Democrats would need to join 52 Republicans to overcome a filibuster. If Democrats did successfully block a Trump nominee, Mr. Malcolm said, it’s a “distinct possibility” that Senate Republican leaders could extend the “nuclear option” to include Supreme Court nominations.

In 2013, Senate Democrats eliminated the filibuster for judicial nominations below the level of the Supreme Court, allowing Mr. Obama’s nominees to be confirmed with a simple majority vote. But the 60-vote threshold remains for high court nominations.

Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday that he will make his nomination “sometime next week,” choosing from a pool of “outstanding candidates.”

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