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Conservative group launches $1.1 million ad campaign calling on 2020 Democrats to release Supreme Court short list

Key Points
  • The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, announces a $1.1 million ad campaign to pressure Democratic presidential candidates into releasing a short list compiled by liberal groups of potential Supreme Court nominees.
  • The two-week campaign comes in response to a New York Times report about liberal groups compiling a list of young liberal judges qualified for appointments.
  • It's not clear that Democratic candidates for president, who are avoiding talking about the list, have seen it.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh looks at U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 9, 2018.
Jim Bourg | Reuters

The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, announced Tuesday that it will spend $1.1 million in a two-week national ad campaign to pressure Democratic presidential candidates into releasing a short list of potential Supreme Court nominees compiled by liberal groups.

The campaign comes in response to a report in The New York Times about liberal groups compiling a list of young liberal judges qualified for judicial appointments. The report noted that the list will not be made public, unlike the short list of potential Supreme Court nominees that President Donald Trump released during the 2016 campaign. Trump's list was compiled by individuals affiliated with conservative groups, including The Heritage Foundation and The Federalist Society.

"Tell Joe Biden: Trump released his list," the new ad says. "Why won't you?"

It's not clear that Democratic candidates for president, who are avoiding talking about the list, have seen it. The initiative behind it is called Building the Bench and is being underwritten by the Alliance for Justice, a 40-year-old liberal advocacy group, as well as other organizations, according to the Times. Alliance for Justice did not respond to a request for comment.

"It is essential to be ready on Day 1 of a new administration with names to fill every vacancy," Nan Aron, the alliance's president, told the Times. "This is to start identifying people so the new president won't waste a minute in addressing this need."

Supreme Court takes on heightened importance in 2020

The ad spending highlights the increased role of the Supreme Court in presidential politics, a heightened visibility that was cemented by the contentious confirmation hearings of Trump's second nominee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Democrats have made the Supreme Court a campaign talking point, with South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg touting reform of the court as a central element of his platform and several others, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, suggesting they are open to increasing the panel's size, currently set at nine.

Several Democrats have also pledged to nominate only those who would uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion decision. Trump had pledged to nominate justices who would overturn the decision.

Supreme Court justices tend to avoid wading into politics, and the court's legitimacy is sometimes tied to the appearance that its judgments are apolitical. Justices do tend to side ideologically with the party of the president who appointed them, though.

Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts have gone back and forth over the independent role of the judiciary. After Trump lashed out against a federal judge who ruled against him by calling him an "Obama judge," Roberts responded with a rare public statement.

"We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them," Roberts said.