Armed Forces

Political Battle Over Obama's Supreme Court Pick Hits the Web

President Obama has yet to announce his pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter, but already a political battle is brewing over the nomination online.

Conservative and liberal groups are using the Internet to trade accusations, launch attack ads against potential nominees and raise money to support their cause.

While political battles over Supreme Court picks are as old as the court itself, the ability to wage war online has raised the stakes as the potential increases for opposing groups to reach larger audiences, raise more money and expand their influence.

"Most Supreme Court picks tend to generate organized campaigns in favor and against the nominees," said Nathan Persily, a professor of law and political science at the Columbia University.

"The fact that interest groups have adopted the newest forms of technology to achieve their ends is unsurprising," he told "Just as the Obama campaign showed what was achievable electorally through the Internet, so too the interest groups are trying to break new ground by using the Internet in campaigning for and against judicial nominees."

Obama is expected to name his pick at the end of this month, the first Supreme Court nomination by a Democratic president in 15 years. But Obama's selection is unlikely to alter the ideology of the court since he is expected to pick a liberal for the court to replace a liberal. 

Republicans admit they're unlikely to derail the pick, with Democrats holding a majority in the Senate. That, however, hasn't lessened the intensity of the battles between opposing groups.

The Judicial Confirmation Network launched a series of Web ads on Monday throwing mud on Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Judge Diane Pamela Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- potential picks for Obama.

The site where the ads are posted asks visitors to decide which of the three is the "worst liberal judicial activist."

Gary Marx, executive director of the group, said the ads have generated more than 2,500 hits thus far. The group plans to launch Google ads starting Wednesday.

Marx told that his groups wants to make sure the public is engaged in a debate over potential nominees.

"It's important while Barack Obama is engaged in vetting behind closed doors, we need to make sure the public vets these nominees as well," he said, noting that a lifetime appointment to the country's highest court is at stake. "There is no other decision a Senate makes that is more important, other than declaring war." 

The Internet, Marx said, offers flexibility and versatility that television cannot. 

Pro Choice-NARAL has contacted 600,000 activists by e-mail about the vacancy and last week launched a contest using the micro-blogging site Twitter for dreaming up the best "hashtag" -- a name related to tweets covering a specific issue -- for a "Supreme Court battle that's just around the corner."

The group is also encouraging visitors to its Web site to sign an e-mail calling on Obama to nominate a "fair-minded individual who supports the constitutional right to privacy as reflected in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision."

Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL, says the group's activists have sent about 18,000 messages to the White House regarding the Supreme Court nomination.

"You look at the social networking tools that we're going to engage now, those tools were not available or used to the same degree in 2005 and 2006 when we were dealing with the other Supreme Court nominees," Miller said.

The critical factor in this kind of outreach is to "reach people where they are," Miller said.

"Whether it's from e-mail advocacy or text message, we've always tried to stay ahead of the curve and give our activists as may options to engage the issues," he said.

The Committee for Justice warned Obama that some potential nominees such as Sotomayor, Kathleen Sullivan, Harold Koh and Deval Patrick "are so clearly committed to judicial activism that they make a bruising battle unavoidable."

"We realize that, in the past, you have said that you want judges who rule with their hearts," the group said on its Web site. "But now would be a good time for you to clarify if you feel that you may have gone too far in endorsing judicial activism."

People For the American Way, a liberal activist group, accused some conservatives of anti-gay bigotry for opposing the nomination of an openly gay nominee.

"Opposing a Supreme Court nominee because of his or her sexual orientation is inappropriate and unacceptable," Michael Keegan, the group's president said in a statement released on its Web site. 

"To claim that a gay person could not rule fairly on a case involving legal and constitutional protections for gay people is no different from saying that a Christian judge could not rule fairly on cases involving religious liberty or that an Hispanic judge could not apply the law fairly in cases involving racial discrimination," he said. "It is bigotry, pure and simple."

Some Republicans, such as Sen. Jeff Sessions, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, say they are not opposed to the nomination of an openly gay nominee as long as the nominee isn't an activist.