POLITICS
07/09/2018 11:43 pm ET

Right-Wing Judicial Group Targets 4 Democrats In Supreme Court Fight

The Judicial Crisis Network is already spending $1.4 million to pressure red-state Democrats to vote for nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is one of four vulnerable Democrats being hit with ads pressuring them to get behind Supreme
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is one of four vulnerable Democrats being hit with ads pressuring them to get behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

WASHINGTON ― Within minutes of President Donald Trump announcing Brett Kavanaugh as his Supreme Court nominee, a conservative judicial advocacy group unveiled a $1.4 million ad buy aimed at pressuring four vulnerable Democrats to support him.

The Judicial Crisis Network announced its “Confirm Kavanaugh” campaign of cable and digital ads in Alabama, Indiana, North Dakota and West Virginia. These all happen to be Republican-majority states with a Democratic senator: Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.).

“Judge Kavanaugh is a home run,” said JCN’s chief counsel and policy director, Carrie Severino. “Like Gorsuch, Judge Kavanaugh is brilliant, fair and independent, committed to following the law and honoring the Constitution.”

Three of those four senators are up for re-election in November (Jones is not), and all are in precarious positions when it comes to voting on Trump’s Supreme Court pick. While many of their Democratic colleagues are already vowing to oppose Kavanaugh, these senators put out far more tepid statements.

“Following the president’s announcement, I will carefully review and consider the record and qualifications of Judge Brett Kavanaugh,” Donnelly said.

“Senators should meet with him, we should debate his qualifications on the Senate floor and cast whatever vote we believe he deserves,” said Manchin. “I look forward to meeting with Judge Kavanaugh, examining his rulings and making a determination of whether to provide my consent.”

“Oh, I’m open to voting yes. I’m open to voting no,” Jones told CNN on Sunday. “I don’t think my role is a rubber stamp for the president. But it’s also not an automatic, knee-jerk no either.”

Ugh, leave me be. -- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, probably, on ads pressuring her to support, or reject, Trump's Supreme Court nomine
Dan Koeck / Reuters
Ugh, leave me be. -- Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, probably, on ads pressuring her to support, or reject, Trump's Supreme Court nominee.

JCN’s ad buy is a piece of a broader, well-organized effort by right-wing groups intent on putting conservative judges on federal courts while Trump is in office.

Kavanaugh, for example, was recommended to Trump by Leonard Leo of The Federalist Society, a nationwide organization of conservative lawyers that has served as a pipeline for Trump’s judicial nominees. Leo put together Trump’s list of 25 potential Supreme Court picks and helped put Neil Gorsuch onto the court. He effectively controls JCN, which serves as the public relations arm of The Federalist Society.

JCN, which is funded by dark money, led the opposition to President Barack Obama’s court pick, Merrick Garland. It also ran a seven-figure national ad buy immediately after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement.

Red-state Democrats aren’t just feeling heat from the right. The Indivisible Project, a nonprofit aimed at electing progressives and pushing progressive policies, said it is focused on making sure Democrats ― all Democrats ― stick together in opposition to Kavanaugh.

“Three Democratic senators — Heitkamp, Manchin, and Donnelly — voted for Trump’s last Supreme Court nominee,” said Ezra Levin, co-executive director of The Indivisible Project. “We need them back on the side of justice.”

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