Today In Both Sides Do It: Supreme Court Edition
February 19, 2016

If you're an ordinary person, you might think the Supreme Court fight is a battle between an obstructionist party and a non-obstructionist party. Maybe you think the two parties have swapped roles, although Democrats in living memory have never refused to allow a Supreme Court vacancy to be filled -- even when they voted down Robert Bork three decades ago, they ultimately approved Anthony Kennedy.

But according to Michael Shear of The New York Times, this isn't a battle between obstructionist Republicans and non-obstructionist Democrats -- it's a battle between two camps full of connivers. And, in fact, the Democratic camp's conniving deserves more of the attention:

Supreme Court Vacancy Has Left and Right Ready to Pounce

Could there be a more "both sides do it" headline?

President Obama’s senior adviser and his top lawyer were blunt with liberal activists on a strategy call as they jumped into what political professionals in Washington expect to be one of the hardest-fought Supreme Court battles in a generation.

In what one participant described as part pep rally and part planning session, Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, and Neil Eggleston, the White House chief counsel, urged dozens of the president’s allies who were on the phone not to hold back in their condemnation of Republicans for refusing to hold hearings to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last week.

The White House hardly needed to prod the interest groups during the Tuesday call. The outcome of this battle could determine the fate of a vast array of contentious issues for decades to come: immigration, climate change, gun rights, campaign finance, health care, affirmative action, gay rights and abortion.

So in record time, the liberal and conservative Washington lobbying and advocacy machines have roared to life as both sides prepare for a fight on a battlefield that includes the White House, Congress and the campaign trail. Advocacy groups are vowing to spend millions of dollars.

So the headline tells us that the conniving is being done by the "left and right," but the right doesn't show up until Paragraph 4 -- and then not very often after that.

We're eventually told that conservative groups are also gearing up for battle, but because the Democrats and liberals get the lead, the impression conveyed is that conservatives are just reacting to Dem/left skulduggery:

... Like their liberal counterparts, the leaders of conservative groups have jumped to reorder their priorities as they begin dividing up the tasks: raising money, lobbying senators, firing up constituents, planning radio and television ads, writing letters to editors and creating talking points for television appearances.

Moments after Justice Scalia’s death became public, the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative organization, organized a team of five lawyers to scour the backgrounds of potential nominees, and another team to research the Senate’s procedural rules. The group has so far sent out a million emails to its members and is preparing videos to post on its Facebook page early next week.

“The stakes are as high as anything we have dealt with in Washington in a decade,” said Jay Sekulow, the chief counsel for the law center. “This is not even the beginning of what this fight will be. It’s full-media, full-legal research, full-government affairs, full-throttle on this.”

Curt Levey, the executive director of the conservative group FreedomWorks and a veteran of six Supreme Court fights, said the struggle over this vacancy could be the first to rival the intensity of the fight over President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork to the Supreme Court in 1987.

“Scalia was only dead a couple of hours when the rhetoric was already heated,” Mr. Levey said Wednesday. “I don’t see how we avoid a Borkian experience.”

(I love the blame-shifting in that last quote. Hours after Scalia's death, "the rhetoric was already heated"? Whose rhetoric, Mr. Levey? I realize thatmemory dims after, oh, a few days, but it was your side announcing that no successor would be approved, even before Scalia's body was cold.)

Shear shows us the battle lines being drawn, and now he's introduced the conservative combatants -- but the liberals get most of the attention:

... The players are familiar: On the left, the court campaign will be run by groups like the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Alliance for Justice, American Bridge, Americans United for Change, People for the American Way and labor unions. On the right, FreedomWorks, the Judicial Crisis Network, the Family Research Council and the American Center for Law and Justice have begun to take up the fight.

The law center posted a petition on its website over the weekend calling for “No Scotus Nomination Before Election.” By Wednesday morning, more than 13,000 people had signed it. A competing petition by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and other liberal groups claims 500,000 signatures urging senators to confirm a nominee to the court.

The struggle to shape the court’s future is also drawing combatants from groups that have not typically played central roles in Supreme Court fights. The League of Conservation Voters, for example, which sees the court’s outlook on environmental issues as critical, has begun calling and emailing its 1.5 million members, asking them to reach out to their senators and urge them to confirm Mr. Obama’s nominee this year.

“It’s hugely important that the president nominate someone and the Senate acts,” said Gene Karpinski, the president of the league. “We will be more engaged in this effort than we ever have before in a Supreme Court nomination. We’ll urge our members to create pressure on the Senate. We want to make sure that message is heard loudly and clearly.”

And this continues. We get half a paragraph about Republican plan, followed by a paragraph and a half about Democratic plans:

... Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, and supported by the outside groups, will make the case that a nomination should be made by the next president, not Mr. Obama. The president’s coalition will argue that the process should move forward this year.

A three-page document of talking points distributed to the progressive groups after the White House call on Tuesday suggested lines like “in America, we have one president at a time” and “there is plenty of time for Congress to fulfill its responsibility to give the president’s nominee a fair hearing and timely vote.”

And then we get three more paragraphs suggesting that conservation groups are so darn liberal they might oppose an Obama nominee from the left:

On the conference call, the liberal groups were urged to stick together once a nominee is announced, to defer to the president and to coalesce behind his pick. But there is already some evidence that not all groups will view Mr. Obama’s nominee through the same lens.

Some environmental organizations are expressing concerns about one possible candidate, Sri Srinivasan, an appeals court judge who cleared the Senate with a 97-to-0 vote. As a corporate lawyer, he defended Jeffrey Skilling, the former chief executive of Enron, the energy company that went bankrupt after an accounting and fraud scandal. He also represented Exxon Mobil after a human rights group sued the company, accusing it of complicity in human rights abuses committed by state security forces that protect a large natural gas field in Indonesia.

“We think that any potential Supreme Court nominee that has clear ties to big oil and clear ties to two of the worst companies -- Enron and Exxon -- given the issues of climate change and other environmental safety issues that are percolating would be one of the worst picks,” said Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska, a group that has lobbied against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

So to sum up: Both sides are battling, but the pro-pick battle is being led from the White House. Left-wing groups abound, some of them to the left of the president.

Conservative groups fade into the background.

In other words: Both sides do it -- but Democrats do it more.

Just another day in the Beltway press corps.

(crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog)

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