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ACLU is spending more than $1 million in TV ads comparing Kavanaugh to Bill Clinton, Cosby

October 2, 2018 at 3:20 PM

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After an 11-to-10 committee vote in favor of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 28, the nomination will now head to the full Senate for confirmation. (Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

The American Civil Liberties Union said it has spent a little more than $1 million on television advertisements to oppose President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.

The campaign, announced Monday, is another sign that the ACLU, which describes itself as a nonpartisan organization, has energized its advocacy efforts in the Trump era. Two days earlier, the group’s national board voted to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination — something it has done only three other times in the past century.

“ACLU’s political growth and advocacy has increased since Donald Trump was elected president. We’ve had a massive growth in volunteer base and massive growth in financial resources,” said Faiz Shakir, the ACLU’s national political director. “People have funded us, and I think they expect a return.”

Since Trump’s election, the ACLU said its membership has jumped from 400,000 to 1.84 million.

“We’ve decided to move to opposition,” Shakir said. “It was incumbent upon us to show how we can flex our muscles in trying to persuade our people in the Kavanaugh vote.”

Related: The ACLU typically stays neutral about Supreme Court nominees. It didn’t with Kavanaugh.

The ads, which come as the FBI is investigating sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, compare the judge to Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby, two powerful men who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct. Cosby was convicted of sexual assault in April.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has forcefully defended Kavanaugh, has previously rejected a comparison to Cosby.

“I think that every woman who’s ever known Brett Kavanaugh has vouched for him being a good guy. Everybody that I know that’s worked with him says he’s a fine man,” Graham said. “I don’t think he’s a Bill Cosby. I think he’s a good, decent guy.”

The White House slammed the ACLU for likening Kavanaugh to the disgraced comedian.

“For the ACLU which claims to care about civil liberties to condemn Brett Kavanaugh to the likes of a convicted felon without any evidence shows their true partisan stripes,” deputy press secretary Raj Shah said in a statement.

The ACLU, Shakir said, is political but not partisan, and argued that the organization’s concerns about Kavanaugh’s nomination is shared by many Americans. “Judge Kavanaugh is not entitled to a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court; he must earn it, and he has not done so,” Shakir said.

The ads will air this week, beginning Monday night, in states represented by senators the ACLU feels can be persuaded to oppose the nomination: Sens. Deb. Fischer (R-Neb.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

Related: Dan Sullivan didn’t watch the Kavanaugh hearings live — because of an emergency appendectomy

Much attention and pressure have been placed on Murkowski, who, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), has been a key swing vote in the Senate. But not much has been focused on Sullivan, the other senator from Alaska, Shakir said. Manchin is a Democrat facing a tough reelection battle in a state that Trump won in 2016. Fischer, too, is up for reelection.

Gardner, Shakir said, is “out of touch” with his state. An anonymous letter sent to Gardner’s office claimed Kavanaugh assaulted a friend in 1998 while he was drunk.

The ACLU has long touted a history of nonpartisanship and has said it works to protect the civil liberties of all people regardless of politics. But it also has been considered a bastion of liberalism by conservative critics. Some have said its decision to oppose Kavanaugh departs from due process.

“An organization that used to pride itself on defending rights of an accused, due process and the Bill of Rights. No more,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted Sunday, a day after the ACLU announced that its national board had taken the rare step of opposing a judicial nominee.

Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor, said that by opposing Kavanaugh, the ACLU is making a statement that uncorroborated allegations are enough to presume a person’s guilt.

“Get tombstone to mark death of ACLU,” Huckabee tweeted.

Related: Kavanaugh would not be confirmed if FBI probe shows he lied to Senate committee, Jeff Flake says

The ACLU cited “credible” allegations by Christine Blasey Ford, a 51-year-old psychology professor from California who accused Kavanaugh of pinning her down on a bed and drunkenly groping her during a house party in the 1980s, when the two were in high school in Maryland. Ford’s allegations had not been corroborated by witnesses she said were at the party.

The organization also cited subsequent allegations from other women, an “inadequate investigation” into those claims and Kavanaugh’s own testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week as among the reasons to doubt his fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.

The FBI is investigating Ford’s allegations, as well as those leveled by a second woman, Deborah Ramirez, who accused Kavanaugh of exposing himself to her during a party while they were first-year students at Yale University. The probe is not a criminal one but rather an additional background check on the judge.

Kavanaugh, 53, has unequivocally denied sexual misconduct. He’s the fourth judge whose Supreme Court nomination the ACLU has opposed in 98 years.

The organization opposed President George W. Bush’s nomination of Samuel A. Alito Jr. in 2006, raising concerns about his “expansive view of executive authority” and decisions he had written on race, religion and reproductive rights. In 1987, it opposed President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert H. Bork, whom the organization saw as “more radical than conservative.” And in 1971, it opposed President Richard M. Nixon’s nomination of William H. Rehnquist, though it did not take a position when Reagan later nominated Rehnquist to be chief justice. In 1991, the ACLU remained neutral on the nomination of Clarence Thomas when he faced sexual harassment allegations.

Related: Rachel Mitchell says her Kavanaugh report is what a ‘reasonable prosecutor’ would say. It’s not.

In Kavanaugh’s case, the ACLU’s opposition is not based on whether his judicial philosophy raises concerns about civil liberties but on sexual assault allegations in the midst of #MeToo, a movement that has brought the swift downfall of powerful men.

“This is fundamentally a women’s rights issue and making sure that we are standing squarely with equality for women who take on powerful men whose job is on the line,” Shakir said, adding later: “What’s on the line is not a civil or criminal trial. . . . It’s really critical that the standard in these circumstances is that we don’t have doubts about the integrity and character of the individual.”

The ACLU’s expenditure on political advertisements is not unprecedented.

Ahead of the August Senate primary in Arizona, the organization paid for ads attacking the three Republican candidates’ stances on immigration. Its leaders also told Politico that they expected to spend at least $25 million on advocacy efforts in this year’s midterms.

In July, before Trump announced his nominee, the ACLU spent thousands of dollars in advertisements calling for Collins and Murkowski, moderate Republicans who support abortion rights, to insist that the president’s pick support a woman’s right to choose.

Read more:

‘Little lies point to bigger lies’: How James Comey thinks the FBI could investigate Kavanaugh

Fox News’s Jeanine Pirro calls the Kavanaugh saga a ‘crucifixion’ of a former altar boy

Kellyanne Conway: ‘I’m a victim of sexual assault’


Kristine Phillips covers national and breaking news for The Washington Post. She previously covered criminal justice, courts and legal affairs at the Indianapolis Star.

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