The coming war over Trump's next Supreme Court nominee

Laina Yost
Reporter

Immediately after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court on Wednesday, pro-abortion-rights and civil rights organizations across the country began preparing for a fight.

The National Organization for Women and Generation Progress are both hoping that people will make a loud noise and put pressure on Democrats and Republicans to delay a vote on President Trump’s nomination until after the midterm elections in November.

“We’re urging young people and we’re urging everyone in the U.S. who cares about the issues our organization cares about, to contact their senators,” said Giovanni Rocco, a press associate for Generation Progress, told Yahoo News on Thursday.

Toni Van Pelt, president of NOW, said her organization is encouraging activists to knock on senator’s doors as they return home for vacation and ask them to hold the vote.

“I think it’s going to be very, very hard for us, but I think that there is a chance we can [win],” Van Pelt told Yahoo News. “If we rise up, enough people from enough sectors and affect enough senators, there’s a chance that we could do this.”

Abortion is not the only issue at stake. Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of policy at the Leadership Conference, said health care is at the top of their agenda.

“The focus of this fight is going to be in the U.S. Senate, and the focus of our efforts here at the Leadership Conference is to make sure that everyone, every grassroots organizer, every top influencer, understands the stakes, so that they can make their voices heard,” Lucius told Yahoo News.

Abortion rights advocates outside the Supreme Court, June 26, 2018. (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call)

Several groups are still deliberating about what their first move would be in response to what will likely be an imminent nomination. President Trump has long been clear that he intends to select staunchly conservative, anti-abortion jurists for the court. At a debate with presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 he pledged to select anti-abortion justices.

On May 22, Trump delivered remarks at the Susan B. Anthony List Annual Campaign for Life gala, and said he kept his promise during the campaign to stand for life.

“Every day, between now and November, we must work together to elect more lawmakers who share our values, cherish our heritage and proudly stand for life,” he told the audience.

For three decades, Kennedy often provided the pivotal swing vote in contentious decisions on the Supreme Court, and his departure represents a crucial juncture for both Democrats and Republicans.

Conservative organizations have started putting money into ad buys and campaigns to get a justice put on the court by November.

Koch Industries said they will commit money to fund ad campaigns that will try to pressure Democrats into supporting whomever Trump’s nominee may be. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative campaign organization, launched ads criticizing Democrats who opposed Justice Neil Gorsuch’s nomination last year.

President Donald Trump watches as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch hugs his wife Marie Louise moments after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy administered the judicial oath during a swearing-in ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC on April 10, 2017. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The Federalist Society, a conservative organization of lawyers, is credited with putting together Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the organization, is serving as an adviser to the president on his judicial nominations.

Van Pelt is not intimidated by groups trying to put a conservative justice on the Supreme Court, and says she is ready to put up a fight.

“That’s what we do,” she said. “That is what we’re all about. We are not going to let them take away women’s rights. … We’re not going away. This is a matter of life and death for women.”

In a call with reporters on Thursday, Ezra Levin, co-executive director of Indivisible, a progressive organization that supports grassroots organizations, said they are planning a two-step strategy. They want to unite Democrats until November and then retake the Senate.

“This will come down to whether or not every single Democrat in the Senate sticks together and if we can pick up one or two Republicans as well,” Levin said. “That is a path to victory, that is possible, but we have to focus our energy on what works, and that’s what Indivisible groups will do.”

The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans, 51-49, but Democrats are urging that a vote on the nomination to be delayed until after the November elections. To keep a nominee from being confirmed, all Democrats and at least one Republican are needed to send it to Vice President Mike Pence for a tie breaker. To successfully delay the vote and prevent it from going to Pence, two Republicans would need to vote against the nominee.

People for the American Way executive vice president Marge Baker says the liberal group is looking at two Republicans in particular — Sen. Collins and Sen. Murkowski, both of whom are pro-choice.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. (Photos: Andrew Harnik/AP, Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

“I think constituents making noise about how much they care can make a difference,” Baker told Yahoo News. “But ultimately, if we’re not able to avoid a vote before the election, then I think we can win the vote. … I think this is absolutely a winnable fight.”

While both liberal and conservative groups knew that Supreme Court retirements were likely coming during Trump’s time in office, Wednesday’s announcement still took them by surprise.

“I think, frankly, we’d all kind of had gotten ourselves to the point of thinking well, this is not going to happen,” said Baker. “And then court adjourned and there’s no resignation, so OK. And then, boom.”

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More Yahoo News stories on Anthony Kennedy’s retirement