A major conservative judicial activist hopes to give Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch a boost in his confirmation battle by targeting Democrats up for reelection in Republican states.
The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) plans to spend $10 million on targeted advertisements to boost Gorsuch's bid to fill Antonin Scalia's seat on the court.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing Democrats to obstruct the nomination. Several senators have already said they support filibustering Gorsuch, who was unanimously confirmed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.
JCN President Carrie Severino, a former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said that this obstruction would be unprecedented in a Supreme Court nomination process. She pointed out that her former boss's famously contentious nomination battle 25 years ago, which featured unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment before the Senate confirmed him by a 52-48 vote, did not involve the filibuster.
"If filibustering a Supreme Court nominee was an acceptable thing, they would have used it with Clarence Thomas," she said. "They used the dirtiest tactics ever, but filibustering was so far off the map that it didn't occur to them to use it. We've really reached a new low."
Severino said her group aims to peel off enough red state Democrats to take the filibuster off the table. Ten Democrats are running for reelection in states that Trump carried in 2016.
"We want to show them that following Chuck Schumer into a state of gridlock is not good for the courts, not good for their states, and unpopular with voters," Severino said.
The organization has spent $2 million of its projected $4.4 million advertising budget on two thirty-second advertisements airing on television in Missouri, Indiana, North Dakota, Montana, and Washington, D.C. The first of the ads was designed to introduce voters to the judge, praising Gorsuch as "completely qualified with bipartisan support." A subsequent ad ramped up pressure on individual senators, focusing on Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) in Gorsuch's home state.
"Michael is threatening gridlock over [Gorsuch's] confirmation," the ad states as footage of anti-Trump riots plays in the background. "He won’t stand up to the radicals in his own party. Tell Michael Bennet: ‘put a Coloradan on the Supreme Court.'"
JCN partners with approximately 50 national and state-based policy groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Concerned Veterans of America, and the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, to coordinate messaging on the looming confirmation battle and help them understand Gorsuch's record as a judge.
Severino and her legal team have pored over the 3,000 cases Gorsuch has heard as well as the 200 opinions he has authored during a decade on the bench. This research, she said, is necessary to push back against "the cherry-picking of decisions" that Democrats have used to criticize the judge.
She pointed to a March 5 press conference where Sen. Patty Murray (D., Wash.) attacked Gorsuch as anti-worker. The senator pointed to a case in which Gorsuch said an employer had the right to fire a trucker who ditched his cargo to avoid freezing to death.
"I also have serious concerns about Judge Gorsuch's clear record of siding with corporations and big business over workers," Murray said.
Severino was familiar with the case, having previously identified it as one that Democrats would likely use to attack him. Gorsuch's ruling focused on the fact that the truck driver claimed mechanical problems, but was still able to drive the truck from the scene, which gave the company discretion on how to handle his continued employment. Severino said that Murray's focus on the end result of the ruling rather than its jurisprudence was wrongheaded.
"They're demagoguing on the facts of the case rather than legal realities," she said. "Judging based on who the two parties are and favoring the more sympathetic character is not how you approach the Constitution. Judges shouldn’t look at cases as rich versus poor or black versus white."
Gorsuch's confirmation hearing is scheduled to begin Monday.