The confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett are less than a week away and as there are reports that senators on the Judiciary Committee are staffing up for what is likely to be a hostile hearing, the mobilization of outside groups’ political machinery both in support of and against Barrett’s nomination has been perhaps even more significant.
Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), which is run by Carrie Severino, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas clerk, is on pace to spend $10 million or more on ads supporting Barrett in the home states of vulnerable or moderate GOP senators. It’s already conducted multiple seven-figure ad buys and is releasing another ad on Wednesday that cuts comments from her remarks during the announcement of her nomination that portray her as an evenhanded judge and a likable mother.
“Judges are not policy-makers, they must be resolute in setting aside any policy views they might hold,” Barrett says. “While I am a judge, I’m better known back home as a room parent, carpool driver and birthday party planner.”
JCN has also focused on saturating the airwaves with earned media, largely in the form of about 150 combined TV, radio and print interviews by Severino herself. JCN aims to double that by the time Barrett is confirmed, likely near the end of the month. It’s also added half a dozen new staffers to its communications and rapid response operation which is providing backgrounders on various issues associated with the Barrett confirmation to allied groups.
“You do have to approach these nomination battles almost like a campaign now because you know that there’s going to be opposition that is on par with what you would see in the campaign,” Severino said of the scale of modern Supreme Court battles. “When you’re looking to confirm a conservative … it doesn’t tend to seem the same way when it’s the Democratic nominees, there seems to be a little bit of a double standard here. But the conservative nominees do get very much attacked … it does have to be a concerted and coordinated campaign to be able to push back against the misinformation and lies about the nominee.”
Meanwhile, Article III Project, a group dedicated to backing the confirmation of Trump judges, brought in a 15-member pro bono legal advisory board including Ian Prior, the former principal deputy director of public affairs for the Trump Justice Department, and Jordan Smith, an appellate and administrative law attorney at Boyden Gray & Associates who previously was a clerk on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Article III Project was founded by Mike Davis, a former clerk to Justice Neil Gorsuch from his time on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and a former counsel to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, from his time as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Davis was one of the people at the center of the effort to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.
“We are taking off the gloves, putting on the brass knuckles, and punching back against the Democrats’ attacks on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith and family,” Davis said in a statement to Fox News. “We have assembled some of the best legal, political, and communications talent in Washington, D.C., with a team of 24, including 15 battle-tested attorneys. We are flooding the zone with television, radio, Zoom, and podcast hits. And for the next several weeks, we are going to give Senate Democrats a well-deserved turn in the barrel, with a combination of rapid response, earned media, and digital advertising.”
And outside of JCN and the Article III Project, many conservative groups are also ramping up their efforts to back Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee in four years.
Concerned Women for America is launching a “Women for Amy” bus tour that will start in Atlanta on Wednesday, joined by Sen. Kelly Loeffler, R-Ga., and be in Washington, D.C., for the start of the Barrett hearings Monday, Oct. 12.
It will then travel through Pennsylvania and eventually on to Texas and Arizona by the end of the month.
Heritage Action for America, which is affiliated with the conservative think-tank the Heritage Foundation, is working with is activists nationwide, including hosting weekly strategy calls with about 10,000 activists, the group’s executive director Jessica Anderson said. On Monday Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, will join the call to break down the first day of Judiciary Committee hearings on Barrett.
Heritage Action also is on the ground in Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin to both encourage those states’ senators to vote for Barrett but also to try to turn the Supreme Court issue into voter turnout in November.
“It’s not just the inflection point of providing support and encouragement to those senators — and particularly both Ernst and Tillis are on Senate Judiciary, which is important to remember,” Anderson said. “The added bonus is getting these swing voters to see how significant the court is … we can go in and use the enthusiasm and the normalcy of Judge Barrett and her jurisprudence background to then mobilize these swing voters.”
Tea Party Patriots, Club for Growth, Susan B. Anthony List, Americans for Prosperity and others will also be engaged in their own activities to support Barrett as the confirmation effort moves along.
“It’s hard to imagine, actually, for a vacancy like this arising like this, that people could have been more prepared,” Severino said of the quick mobilization of right-leaning groups. “We have a JCN and we have people who are veterans of every major Supreme Court battle going back to Bork. So I think it’s we really couldn’t have been better prepared going into this confirmation fight.”
Conservatives, of course, are not the only ones who are pooling their efforts for a confirmation battle that is likely to get increasingly nasty when hearings start next week. The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, which has a history of fiercely opposing Trump’s judicial appointments, organized a letter signed by 150 liberal groups opposing Barrett.
“Judge Barrett’s extreme record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, along with her ideologically driven writings and speeches, demonstrate that she is incapable of rendering equal justice under law,” the letter read. It continued to say that Barrett would be biased on issues from abortion, employment discrimination, gay rights, immigration, gun control and more.
And Demand Justice, which is essentially JCN’s liberal counterpart, is engaged in a $10 million ad campaign opposing the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice before a new president is inaugurated.
“It’s a lifetime appointment, and a majority of Americans say the vote for the next Supreme Court justice should wait until after the election,” one Demand Justice ad says. “But instead of letting our voices be heard, Trump and McConnell are rushing it through and taking a shortcut to the highest court in the land.”
Despite a handful of coronavirus cases in the Senate Republican caucus, including on the Senate Judiciary Committee, there appear to be enough GOP senators supportive of Barrett’s confirmation to seat her on the Supreme Court by the end of the month, barring any unexpected defections. Republicans intend to vote Barrett out of committee on Oct. 22 which should set up a Senate floor vote shortly thereafter, assuming the currently coronavirus-positive senators recover by then and there are no further pandemic-related complications.
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