The Supreme Court battle yet to come

posted at 11:01 pm on March 14, 2016 by John Sexton

With all of the focus on the conflict taking place at Trump rallies and within the Republican party generally (see Mitt Romney) it’s easy to forget the lingering question of a replacement for Justice Scalia still remains unresolved. Of course President Obama could nominate someone and the Senate could refuse to act and that would be the end of it, but that’s not what is going to happen. According to a report in the Hill, both sides are gearing up for a PR war that exceeds anything we’ve seen so far:

It is likely to be one of the most heated confirmation fights in recent memory, with both sides expected to unleash television ads, opposition research and grassroots organizing aimed at gaining the upper hand for the November elections…

“I think this is going to be as big a fight as I’ve seen,” said Drew Courtney, communications director for People for the American Way, a liberal group involved in the nomination fight. “Even knowing we are in the Donald Trump election year, this is going to stay really big.”

The DNC is considering sending the nominee on a tour of law schools to garner more attention and create a groundswell of support, but the real action will be happening with outside groups who are already saying there is “not a tactic you can imagine” they won’t deploy:

During the Senate’s end-of-month recess, liberal groups will try to generate the same kind of town hall outrage that was directed at Democrats during the healthcare debate of 2009. MoveOn.org and other progressive groups are planning a national “day of action” on March 21.

Americans United for Change is planning to confront GOP senators by dropping off petitions at their offices or peppering them with questions during town hall meetings.

“If this drags on, there’s not a tactic you can imagine that this coalition won’t employ,” said the group’s president, Brad Woodhouse

For its part, the RNC is also gearing up for a major effort aimed at pushing back on whoever Obama nominates. The AP reports:

The Republican Party launched a task force housed to orchestrate attack ads, petitions and media outreach, party officials said. They want to bolster a strategy that Senate Republicans adopted as soon as Justice Antonin Scalia died last month: refusing to consider an Obama nominee out of hopes that the next president will be a Republican.

The Republican National Committee will contract with America Rising Squared, an outside group targeting Democrats that’s run by a longtime aide to GOP Sen. John McCain. GOP chairman Reince Priebus said it would be the most comprehensive judicial response effort in the party’s history.

Priebus said the RNC would “make sure Democrats have to answer to the American people for why they don’t want voters to have a say in this process.”

So, as if we don’t already have enough open political warfare on our plate, we’re about to see both parties turn up the heat as high as it can go. Assuming the underlying issue is a stalemate, the question is who is likely to benefit most from the coming PR war.

On one hand, maybe having someone outside of the GOP draw fire will drain some of the energy currently being expended on internecine warfare. That would benefit the entire GOP which has been struggling through a bitter nomination fight.

On the other hand, pushing to replace Scalia with a progressive nominee is likely to focus everyone’s mind on what is at stake in this election. That should energize both sides but one side (the GOP) is already looking plenty energized. If Democrats have a worry it’s probably that their front-runner doesn’t seem to be generating as much raw enthusiasm as either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Getting people worked up about the Supreme Court could be a way for Democrats to change that and drive more people to the polls.

In addition, Democrats have their eyes on winning not just the White House this year but retaking the Senate. A big, nasty campaign aimed at demonizing Senate Republicans is something they would want to do, especially in a year in which the map favors them, even if replacing Scalia wasn’t at issue. If they can’t force the GOP to take up their nominee they can at least benefit politically from the refusal.


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