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Published: Sunday, 7/24/2005

Nomination mobilizes interest groups

BY KAREN MACPHERSON
BLADE WASHINGTON BUREAU
Protesters from the National Organization for Women oppose President Bush's Supreme Court choice. Protesters from the National Organization for Women oppose President Bush's Supreme Court choice.
STEPHEN CROWLEY / NYT Enlarge

WASHINGTON - With e-mail alerts, Capitol Hill rallies, and Web sites, conservative and liberal groups scurried to mobilize their troops for the battle over the nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court.

A day after President Bush's Tuesday announcement of Judge Roberts as his nominee, several dozen members of various women's groups, holding signs reading, "Our Bodies, Our Rights," and coat hangers stating, "Keep this out of my uterus," marched in front of a U.S. Senate office building, urging senators to oppose Mr. Roberts because of his record on abortion rights.

Meanwhile, Progress for America, a conservative group, unveiled a 30-second television ad designed to build support for Mr. Roberts by introducing him to the American public as a "brilliant" lawyer and "fair" judge.

The ad is the linchpin of an initial $1 million, one-week campaign; it ends by asking viewers the question, "Shouldn't a fair judge be treated fairly?" and exhorting citizens to write their senators in support of Mr. Roberts.

On Thursday, members of MoveOn.Org Political Action, a liberal group, began gathering signatures on anti-Roberts petitions in 165 cities.

Interest groups involved in Mr. Roberts' nomination battle also are making extensive use of the Internet to quickly reach supporters and influence public opinion, something that was not available the last time the Senate debated a Supreme Court nominee 11 years ago.

Within an hour after President Bush announced Judge Roberts' nomination, for example, Progress for America went live with its Web site, judgeroberts.com. Over the previous few weeks, the group had registered the domain names for Web sites for 30 possible Supreme Court candidates, spokesman Jessica Boulanger said.

In the 12 hours after Mr. Bush's announcement, members of the liberal group People for the American Way sent 30,000 e-mails to senators through the Web site saveourcourt.org.

In the e-mails, members urged senators to withhold judgment on Mr. Roberts until more is known about his stance on key issues, such as abortion, civil rights, and the environment.

"The Internet has taken the conversation out from the dinner table to the wider world," said Carol Darr, director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy and the Internet at George Washington University. "It's going to be real interesting to watch."

For both sides, the stakes are high, and considerable cash and political capital will be spent before the Roberts nomination battle is over. Progress for America, for example, says it is prepared to spend $18 million on advertising and grass-roots efforts to promote Mr. Roberts' nomination.

Opponents of Mr. Roberts also are working to raise money so they can get their message out, especially to young women who they say will be most affected if the Senate approves the nomination.

Abortion is expected to be a key factor in the debate over Mr. Roberts, both sides agree.

Women's groups are particularly concerned about highlighting Mr. Roberts' record on abortion, pointing out that he argued on behalf of Operation Rescue, a group that aggressively attempts to persuade women against abortions.

In addition, as a government lawyer in the first Bush administration, Mr. Roberts tried to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 ruling legalizing abortion, women's groups note.

Years later, in his 2003 confirmation hearing to be a federal appeals judge, however, Mr. Roberts stated that Roe vs. Wade "is the settled law of the land."

"With Roe hanging by a fifth vote, we have a right to know exactly where he stands," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.

"We want to make sure he won't be confirmed as a stealth candidate," she said.

Conservative groups, meanwhile, are highlighting Judge Roberts' "outstanding" education and legal career.

"This man's credentials are the dream of every lawyer on the planet," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women For America.

Conservatives also praised Mr. Roberts' record in private practice and as a government lawyer.

"I think it's [Judge Roberts' nomination] a big victory for anybody who thinks that the Supreme Court has badly overstepped its legitimate authority," said Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice.

Meanwhile, Paul Rosenzweig, a legal expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said interest groups on both sides will be "much less important than they think" because of Judge Roberts' "stellar" credentials.

"I think it's going to be a pretty easy run [in the Senate confirmation process] for John Roberts, and that all of the unhappiness from some public interest groups and joy from others won't come down to much," Mr. Rosenzweig added.

Opponents of Judge Roberts' nomination acknowledge that their task is made more difficult by Mr. Roberts' likable personality and experience as a Washington insider who knows people on both sides of the Senate aisle.

"No doubt these things give him an edge," said Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women. "No doubt he is a nice guy. So he will smile while reversing Roe."

Unlike women's groups, which immediately launched an anti-Roberts campaign, other liberal groups, such as the People For the American Way, are holding their fire and asking senators to do likewise.

"We haven't opposed Roberts, although we have expressed very serious concerns about his troubling record," said Elliot Mincberg, vice president and legal and education policy director of People for the American Way Foundation.

"It may well turn into opposition at some point," he said.

"But we think it is important to prevent the kind of rush to judgment that the White House and some of the far right are trying to push on the nomination," Mr. Mincberg said. "I think that, for a nomination like this one, for someone who has a relatively sparse record, the hearings are absolutely critical."

Contact Karen MacPherson at: kmacpherson@nationalpress.com or 202-662-7075.



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