Partisan interest groups are already keying up for the next Supreme Court confirmation as speculation abounds about Justice Anthony Kennedy’s rumored retirement.
Liberal operatives are for the first time building a permanent political organization to intensify Democratic energy on judgeships, hoping to match the conservative’s traditional dominance in this field.
BuzzFeed News reports that the opening volley of this new project is currently underway. Demand Justice (DJ), a liberal nonprofit helmed by Democratic operative Brian Fallon, launched a digital campaign Tuesday targeting three frontrunners on President Donald Trump’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees.
Fallon was previously a communications aide to Hillary Clinton and former Attorney General Eric Holder.
Fallon told BuzzFeed News he hopes his coalition will be the liberal analogue to the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a well-heeled advocacy group that dominates the space around judicial confirmations. JCN spent $17 million during the last high court vacancy, expending $10 million urging Republicans to block Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination and another $7 million supporting Gorsuch after Trump’s inauguration. (RELATED: The Supremes Are Popular, But Ethics Concerns Dominate, New Survey Shows)
The first set of ads produced for the Tuesday launch targeted three potential nominees: Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Judge Amy Coney Barrett of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Amul Thapar of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Kavanaugh was a senior aide in the George W. Bush White House before his appointment to the D.C. Circuit, a niche tribunal often considered the Supreme Court’s farm team. A Federalist Society stalwart with stellar academic credentials who clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy, many see Kavanaugh as the frontrunner for the nomination.
Barrett is a recent appointee to the 7th Circuit, the federal appeals court based in Chicago. Before joining the federal bench, she was a well-regarded professor at Notre Dame Law School. She proved an effective foil to Senate Democrats during her September 2017 confirmation hearing, which repeatedly veered into the awkward morass of religion.
Like Barrett, Thapar is also a recent Trump appointee to the 6th Circuit — the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court. Before his elevation to the 6th Circuit, Thapar was a federal trial judge in Kentucky. He is an ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
As for conservatives, a political group aligned with the Koch brothers, Americans for Prosperity (AFP), hired a new vice president in January to lead network engagement on judicial confirmations and to spearhead organizing for the next Supreme Court vacancy, The Daily Caller News Foundation previously reported. Koch-backed nonprofits ran digital ads and sent direct mail pieces supporting Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation in 2017.
AFP’s early efforts were backed by a six-figure investment. Heavier spending will attend the next Supreme Court nomination.
Political posturing notwithstanding, it’s not clear when the next vacancy on the high court might come, though rumors of dubious sourcing regarding Kennedy’s plans are circulating widely in Washington. Recent historical practice has varied as to when retirements are announced. Justices Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter announced their intentions in April or May. By contrast, Justices Lewis Powell and Sandra Day O’Connor retired in late June or early July.
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