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Outside Groups Ready for Supreme Court Fight

Organizations from both sides are already rallying supporters, hitting the airwaves

Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are among a small bipartisan group of lawmakers working on legislation to enshrine rights to abortion and contraception into law.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, left, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are among a small bipartisan group of lawmakers working on legislation to enshrine rights to abortion and contraception into law. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The outside advertising deluge began well before President Donald Trump formally named his choice to replace retiring Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

With federal abortion rights potentially in the balance, television viewers in Alaska and Maine were already seeing commercials from the liberal group Demand Justice featuring a March 30, 2016, exchange between candidate Trump and MSNBC host Chris Matthews at an event in Wisconsin.

“I think there should be some kind of punishment,” for women who decide to have abortions, Trump said.

Brian Fallon, the executive director of Demand Justice and a onetime spokesman for current Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, worked for the Obama Justice Department and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign when Trump made those remarks.

“Make no mistake: The future of Roe and the Affordable Care Act will be the defining issues in this confirmation fight,” Fallon said at a news conference Thursday.

“It’s true. Democrats do not have a majority in the Senate, but we do have a majority in the Senate on these two issues,” he said. “There is a majority in the Senate that believes that Roe should not be overturned, and there is a majority that believes that the Affordable Care Act should not be gutted.”

Watch: Decoding the High Court Confirmation Process — 2 Things Trump Needs to Worry About

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Not left behind

Demand Justice has committed to spend some $5 million on opposition to Trump’s Supreme Court pick, assuming it is a predictably conservative candidate. 

Activists from the liberal group Indivisible will be out in force as well in various states, planning a #SaveSCOTUS week of action to coincide with Trump’s announcement. Indivisible’s literature begins with a bit of an admission — in a Senate which features a Republican majority operating under the current rules, there’s actually no procedural tool to thwart confirmation of Trump’s choice unless GOP senators flip.

Their two top targets are not at all surprising: The effort will focus on trying to win over Republicans Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine without losing any Democrats to the “yes” column.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, which promotes the protection of abortion rights, is already running newspaper ads and hitting the airwaves in both states.

Right moves

On the other side, there is no shortage of resources. Conservatives have arguably had more success organizing around judicial nominations than liberals in recent years.

Organizations backed by the billionaire Koch brothers such as Americans for Prosperity are prepared to spend seven figures in support of a Trump nominee to replace Kennedy, “in the mold of Neil Gorsuch.”

Gorsuch, Trump’s first selection for the Supreme Court, has proved to be a solid member of the conservative bloc, as anticipated. In support of Gorsuch, the Koch network and its supporters made roughly 350,000 phone calls and sent mailers in key states while pursuing other grass-roots-style outreach.

The Judicial Crisis Network, an advocacy group set up largely to defend and promote conservative judicial picks, is gearing up to spend millions of dollars to back the Trump selection.

That is according to Carrie Severino, its chief counsel and policy director, who was interviewed Friday for Sunday’s edition of C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program.

“We spent about $10 million during the Gorsuch campaign, and I don’t want to have to spend another $10 million,” she said.

But the network would be prepared to do so, if necessary, to get the nominee across the finish line, she said.

Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia appear certain to be the hottest targets, given their support for Gorsuch’s confirmation. All three were invited to meet with Trump about the nomination ahead of the July Fourth recess.

And all three will also face voters in November in states won by the president in 2016.

“Our focus would be those swing states,” Severino said. “We had three Democrat votes last time. I would love to expand that margin. I think especially given the choice clearly in front of some of these senators up for re-election, when they’re going to be accountable to voters in their states, who in most cases supported Trump.”

The conservative groups that helped promote the Gorsuch nomination faced criticism from the liberal side about the secretive nature of their finances, but Severino said there would be no reason to reveal the names of her organization’s funding this time around.

“We are a (c)4, so we do not have to legally disclose our donors, and we have an obligation to them. In a world of Red Hens and Maxine Waters, all the kinds of attacks we’ve seen … particularly on conservatives and on members of the administration,” Severino said. “I feel like I have a duty to my donors to give them confidentiality.”

The Red Hen is the restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, that made headlines last month for declining to serve White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

The Senate is expected to move forward with processing the Supreme Court nomination in the fall.

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