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Diminished Conservative Groups Gear Up for Supreme Court Nomination Battle

In 2005, the pro-Republican group Progress for America ran television ads in support of John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court.
In 2005, the pro-Republican group Progress for America ran television ads in support of John G. Roberts Jr.'s nomination to the Supreme Court. (Progress For America)

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Nonetheless, conservatives say, they are pushing ahead with plans to use the Internet, cable television appearances and a limited amount of advertising to get their message out. An early line of attack emerged last week when Obama told reporters that his eventual nominee would have, among other characteristics, a "quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes."

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Wendy Long, chief counsel of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a small Manassas-based group that has been active in conservative judicial battles, immediately pounced on the remark. "What he means is he wants empathy for one side, and what's wrong with that is it is being partial instead of being impartial," said Long, a former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. "A judge is supposed to have empathy for no one but simply to follow the law."

Conservative groups cheered the elevation this week of conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.) to the top GOP seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, replacing moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who favors abortion rights and just announced his switch to the Democratic Party.

"We're very dependent on the Republican senators for there to be a real fight here," said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice. "They have to be willing to put up a fight. The outside groups can't just do it."

Stuart Roy, a public relations consultant who headed communications strategy at Progress for America, recalled how preparations began long before Roberts was nominated. The group placed organizers in 17 key states and lined up private planes so operatives could quickly gather biographical information once a candidate was announced.

The group spent about $15 million on the Roberts, Alito and Harriet E. Miers nominations, Roy estimates, though Miers's ended badly amid conservative opposition.

"We had the luxury of a lot of people and a well-funded effort," Roy said. "In those two battles, I think we definitely ran circles around the left. . . . I very much doubt that will be the case this time around."

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.

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