NEW YORK – As expected, interest groups inside and outside the Beltway are gearing up for a supreme fight as Judge John Roberts (search) prepared for his confirmation hearings to be the next justice on the nation's highest court.
Another non-surprise is that conservative groups are elated at President Bush's pick to replace Sandra Day O'Connor (search) on the Supreme Court while more liberal groups are not so ecstatic.
Both sides plan a blizzard of summer ads aimed at defining Roberts in the public mind. Progress for America was first to announce a television commercial to begin running soon. The group, which coordinates its efforts with presidential aides, vowed to spend at least $1 million on advertising and grassroots activities to combat what it called "dishonest attacks" on Roberts. It also launched a Web site, JudgeRoberts.com, designed to promote the nominee.
The television ad, scheduled to start Wednesday night, mostly will be limited to national cable news channels. The ad will also be shown on Sunday in the Washington, D.C., television market during the morning talk shows on local affiliates of CBS, ABC and NBC, the group said. Ads are not slated to run on network affiliates anywhere else, meaning much of the country won't see them. However, radio ads will be scripted.
"Shouldn't a fair judge be treated fairly? Urge the Senate to give John Roberts a fair up-or-down vote," the television ad says.
Elsewhere, the left-wing advocacy group MoveOn.org said its members will hold petition events on Thursday to oppose the nomination of what they call a "right-wing corporate lawyer and ideologue."
"President Bush nominated this corporate lawyer to add to the right-wing activist block of [Justices] Scalia and Thomas," said Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org. "Instead of a mainstream jurist with a distinguished career as someone who protects the rights of the American people, Bush chose another right-wing crony. "
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has said interest groups on both sides of the issue do more harm than good and they should stay out of senators' way in doing their work.
But various groups, particularly ones that consider themselves conservative and are in full support of Roberts, say they have learned from bitter confirmation hearings of the past and are hitting the ground running this time around to counter the estimated $50 million campaign being launched from various groups in opposition to Roberts.
Just how much effect the interest groups will have remains to be seen.
"I think that the liberal groups will largely determine the answer to that question because of the whole reason that we are doing this is because what they have unfairly and improperly done in the past to attack nominees to the Supreme Court," Wendy Long, chief counsel for the Judicial Confirmation Network, told FOXNews.com, specifically citing the case of Robert Bork (search), the defeated Supreme Court nominee of 1987. Conservatives have made his name a verb, often referring to the unfair attack on a person's reputation and views as "being Borked."
"This process is very much a one-way street and its driven by unjustified, unfair attacks by left-wing interest groups," Long added. "I think the general philosophy on this side is, hope for the best and prepare for the worse."
The Elephant in the Room
Since abortion is an omnipresent issue around the nation and in the courts, Planned Parenthood Federation of America said Roberts must be prepared to demonstrate his commitment to constitutional protections for women's health and reproductive rights.
"The nomination of John G. Roberts raises serious questions and grave concerns for women's health and safety. It is particularly troubling that Roberts went on the record calling for Roe v. Wade to be overturned when he served as a lawyer for the government," said Karen Pearl, interim president of PPFA. "Only a nominee committed to protecting women's health and safety should be confirmed by the Senate."
Several hundred women marched Wednesday morning in front of the Supreme Court, which faces the east front of the U.S. Capitol. The women carried signs that said, "Save Roe!" and "Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide!"
NARAL-Pro Choice America held an "emergency demonstration" against Roberts' nomination across the street from the Capitol at midday.
Democratic concern over Roberts' abortion views stem from two positions that Roberts took on Roe v. Wade (search), the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
When serving as deputy solicitor general during the administration of the first President Bush, Roberts filed a brief in 1991 on behalf of his client, writing: "We continue to believe that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overruled."
But during his confirmation hearings in 2003, Roberts insisted that the brief contained the administration's opinion, not necessarily his own. "The statement in the brief was my position as an advocate for a client," he said.
"These are not inconsistent positions," added Brian Fahling, senior trial attorney for the American Family Association Center for Law & Policy. "They reflect a consistent and principled jurisprudence that understands the principle of authority and the rule of law."
Roberts also insisted he would respect Supreme Court precedent. Democrats and special-interest groups likely will pounce on this, although many legal experts and observers agree that Roberts in 1991 was voicing the opinion of his client, not necessarily his own personal views.
"Many of the positions he's taken are positions he took as an advocate ... representing a client," said former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, a Republican who was picked by Bush to steer Roberts through the confirmation process.
Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said it is making no assumptions on Roberts' personal adherence to interpretations of the "morality" of issues such as abortion, contraception, reproductive rights, the death penalty and gay rights. Roberts is Roman Catholic.
"We fully understand that regardless of those views, an educated Catholic knows that they have a personal right to dissent from church positions and an even stronger responsibility to protect the right of all Americans to follow or disregard the teachings of their denominations on these issues," Kissling said. "Modern Catholic social thought accepts and supports a legitimate distinction between church and state."
The National Pro-Life Action Center (NPLAC) said it will deliver a petition signed by over 225,000 Americans to the Senate in support of a nominee who will "respect and defend the inalienable right-to-life of all human beings."
"NPLAC has consistently stated that any nominee to the Supreme Court must meet the 'Rehnquist standard.' Simply put, this means that the nominee must concur with Justice Rehnquist's eloquent dissent in the Roe v. Wade decision on the basis that this decision was morally and constitutionally erroneous," said Paul Chaim Schenck, executive director of NPLAC.
Added NPLAC Chairman Stephen Peroutka: "If Judge Roberts is completely consistent with his previously stated understanding of this legal decision … and he resists the pressure to endorse the misguided belief that Roe and Doe are 'settled law' and therefore unchangeable, NPLAC would wholeheartedly endorse his nomination."
Voices Coming Out of the Woodwork
Meanwhile, the 1.7 million-member Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic lay organization, also applauded Roberts' "reputation for fairness, integrity and superb judicial temperament."
They noted that during his tenure in private practice, Roberts argued a case free of charge on behalf of some of Washington, D.C.'s neediest welfare recipients who were about to lose their benefits under the D.C. Public Assistance Act.
"He is someone who knows and appreciates the plight of the poor, especially those who have the most difficult time getting fair and even-handed treatment in our legal system," said Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson.
"President Bush has chosen an exceptionally well qualified and impartial nominee for the Supreme Court. Judge Roberts is widely respected for his fair judgment, intellect and integrity, all things qualifying him to serve as the next Supreme Court Justice," added Family Research Council President Tony Perkins. "I believe that Judge Roberts will strictly interpret the Constitution and not legislate from the bench … there should be a fair hearing for this fair-minded judge."
Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition of America, noted that Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said Roberts was "in the ballpark" among a list of three names of nominees who would avoid a filibuster.
"Hopefully, this is a sign that there will be bipartisan support for Judge Roberts," Combs said.
The Christian Coalition has formed a Judicial Task Force with chairmen in every state to put pressure on the Senate to force an up-or-down vote on all nominees to the federal bench. "Now that President Bush has nominated Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court, it is critical that pro-life and pro-family Americans speak up and have their voices heard in this process," Combs said.
Other groups more or less warned Democrats not to attack Roberts simply because he may have a religious background.
"Senate Democrats, especially those seeking re-election next year, should know that we will be watching them carefully. If they again attempt to attack a nominee's faith or pro-life convictions, their constituents will know about it and they will be held accountable," said Father Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life.
Even the American Legislative Exchange Council weighed in, saying Roberts is a "phenomenal choice."
"Judge Roberts has a track record of not legislating from the bench. He recognizes the constitutional role of the judiciary and the genius of the separation of powers between the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government," said ALEC Executive Director Duane Parde.
"The judicial confirmation of Judge Roberts to the Supreme Court would be a strong step toward the recognition of the separation of powers between the federal and state governments. This support of the sovereignty of the states will enhance federalism, free markets, and the individual freedoms of all Americans."