Friday, May 01, 2009

Obama on Supreme Court

A look at what President Barack Obama has said about potential nominees to the Supreme Court:


During Friday's White House press briefing:

-- ''Now, the process of selecting someone to replace Justice (David) Souter is among my most serious responsibilities as president, so I will seek somebody with a sharp and independent mind and a record of excellence and integrity. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people's hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes. I will seek somebody who is dedicated to the rule of law, who honors our constitutional traditions, who respects the integrity of the judicial process and the appropriate limits of the judicial role. I will seek somebody who shares my respect for constitutional values on which this nation was founded and who brings a thoughtful understanding of how to apply them in our time.''


During an Oct. 15, 2008, presidential debate, Obama was asked whether he could nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with him on Roe v. Wade:

-- ''Well, I think it's true that we shouldn't apply a strict litmus test and the most important thing in any judge is their capacity to provide fairness and justice to the American people. And it is true that this is going to be, I think, one of the most consequential decisions of the next president. It is very likely that one of us will be making at least one and probably more than one appointments and Roe versus Wade probably hangs in the balance. ... So this is going to be an important issue. I will look for those judges who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.''


During a Democratic primary debate on Nov. 15, 2007, Obama was asked whether he would insist that any nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court supported abortion rights for women:

-- ''I would not appoint somebody who doesn't believe in the right to privacy. ... I taught constitutional law for 10 years, and when you look at what makes a great Supreme Court justice, it's not just the particular issue and how they ruled. But it's their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority, those who are vulnerable, those who don't have a lot of clout. ... Sometimes we're only looking at academics or people who've been in the courts. If we can find people who have life experience, and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that's the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.''


During a July 17, 2007, appearance at a Planned Parenthood conference:

-- ''We need somebody who's got the heart to recognize -- the empathy to recognize what it's like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it's like to be poor or African-American or gay or disabled or old. And that's the criteria by which I'm going to be selecting my judges.''


On the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts, Sept. 22, 2005. Obama voted against Roberts' confirmation:

--''What matters on the Supreme Court is those 5 percent of cases that are truly difficult. In those cases, adherence to precedent and rules of construction and interpretation will only get you through the 25th mile of the marathon. That last mile can only be determined on the basis of one's deepest values, one's core concerns, one's broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one's empathy.

''In those 5 percent of hard cases, the constitutional text will not be directly on point. The language of the statute will not be perfectly clear. Legal process alone will not lead you to a rule of decision. In those circumstances, your decisions about whether affirmative action is an appropriate response to the history of discrimination in this country or whether a general right of privacy encompasses a more specific right of women to control their reproductive decisions or whether the commerce clause empowers Congress to speak on those issues of broad national concern that may be only tangentially related to what is easily defined as interstate commerce, whether a person who is disabled has the right to be accommodated so they can work alongside those who are nondisabled -- in those difficult cases, the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge's heart.''

Immigrants Push for Reforms at Rallies Across US

MIAMI (AP) -- Immigrants and their families gathered at rallies across the country Friday to push for changes to U.S. immigration policy, but as a swine flu outbreak continued to spread, attendance at some events was smaller than organizers had hoped.

The area hardest hit by the swine flu is Mexico, also the native home of many rally participants. There were no immediate reports of canceled events, but Juan Pablo Chavez, a Tampa-based community organizer for the Florida Immigration Coalition, said he and others were monitoring the situation and in close contact with state health care officials.

''If they tell us to halt the events, we will cancel immediately. But for now, we are simply asking people who are sick not to come out,'' Chavez said.

Organizers sought to channel the political muscle Hispanics flexed last fall for Barack Obama into a new cause: jump-starting stalled efforts to forge a path to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

They had hoped crowds would equal or exceed those of last year, when a stringent immigration bill poised to pass in Congress drew massive protests. But early reports suggested turnout would be far lower than in previous years.

In Miami, more than 300 minority rights activists joined with union officials in one of the first local immigration rallies to be endorsed by the AFL-CIO.

''We are not just here for the immigrants, we are not just here for the workers,'' said Maria Rodriguez, head of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. ''We are here for all the families who deserve a better life. Immigrants will not be pitted against union workers -- our fates are intertwined.''

The Miami marchers gathered across from the turquoise waters of Biscayne Bay, waving signs for immigration reform in Spanish, English and Creole. They also want temporary protection for the state's large community of Haitian immigrants, whose native island has been devastated in recent years by hurricanes and floods.

They chanted ''W-I N-O-U K-A-P-A-B,'' Creole for ''Yes We Can.''

Thousands were expected at events in Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Denver, Chicago, New York and other cities -- mostly in the late afternoon, when workers finished their shifts.

In Chicago, rally-goers unfurled a banner of flags stitched together from countries across the globe. Organizers said they expected about 15,000 at the event, but the crowd appeared to be much smaller.

Waukegan resident Armando Pena said he was disappointed more people didn't turn out and blamed the low numbers on a combination of the flu and tough economic times.

''The economy is so bad they don't want to lose their jobs,'' said Pena, who organized a contingent of about 50 people.

A line of about 225 marchers made their way down the main thoroughfare in New Jersey's largest city Friday, stopping to recite chants and gather for a vigil in front of the federal immigration building in Newark.

Dozens of Latin American ice cream vendors wheeled pushcarts decorated with bright umbrellas and signs with phrases like, ''Say Reform, Not Raids.''

Thousands turned out in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis., despite a swine flu threat that closed area schools and forced the cancellation of weekend Cinco de Mayo celebrations.

''It's a country of equality,'' said Manuel Espera, a 46-year-old fabric factory worker. ''We deserve the right to work.''

In New York City, participants gathered in Union Square. Immigrant, labor and faith communities also gathered under a light drizzle at Madison Square Park.

Activists' hopes have been buoyed with Obama in the White House and a Democratic-controlled Congress, in part because they believe the Hispanic vote, about two-thirds of which went to Obama, helped flip key battleground states such as Colorado and New Mexico. Many Hispanics strongly back comprehensive immigration reform, and they believe Obama owes them.

The White House announced this week that it would refocus its resources on prosecuting employers who hire illegal immigrants. And a Senate Judiciary subcommittee took up immigration this week for the first time in the new Congress.

But many immigrants are wary. They say the immigrations raids that grew common under the Bush administration have continued since Obama took office.

In Colorado, a march was planned Saturday in Greeley, a rural town 60 miles north of Denver, and the site of a 2006 federal raid at a meatpacking plant, in which 261 undocumented workers were detained.

Greeley is also the place where dozens of illegal immigrants were charged with identity theft last year for filing taxes using false or stolen social security numbers. County judges have since ruled tax records are confidential and authorities were wrong to seize them, but the decisions will be appealed.

''Greeley is the microcosm,'' said Alonzo Barron Ortiz, an organizer with the group Al Frente de la Lucha, which chose Saturday so workers wouldn't have to miss work.

Miami-Dade College student Felipe Matos, a native of Brazil, said he hoped the marches would raise awareness among those not directly affected about the impact of deportations on families.

''A lot of time you hear the numbers 11 million people, but you don't see the faces, you don't hear the stories of the people,'' he said.

Matos said many of his friends feel emboldened by what they see as their role in the November election.

''Young people decided to go out and vote and get other people to vote,'' he said. ''Now people feel empowered to make a difference and change policy.''

US Military Deaths in Iraq War at 4, 281

MUCH TO DO ABOUT....? Ms Piggy!!

Swine Flu May Be Less Potent Than First Feared

The swine flu outbreak that has alarmed the world for a week now appears less ominous, with the virus showing little staying power in the hardest-hit cities and scientists suggesting it lacks the genetic fortitude of past killer bugs.

President Barack Obama even voiced hope Friday that it may turn out to be no more harmful than the average seasonal flu.

In New York City, which has the most confirmed swine flu cases in the U.S. with 49, swine flu has not spread far beyond cases linked to one Catholic school. In Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak, very few relatives of flu victims seem to have caught it.

A flu expert said he sees no reason to believe the virus is particularly lethal. And a federal scientist said the germ's genetic makeup lacks some traits seen in the deadly 1918 flu pandemic strain and the more recent killer bird flu.

Still, it was too soon to be certain what the swine flu virus will do. Experts say the only wise course is to prepare for the worst. But in a world that's been rattled by the specter of a global pandemic, glimmers of hope were more than welcome Friday.

''It may turn out that H1N1 runs its course like ordinary flus, in which case we will have prepared and we won't need all these preparations,'' Obama said, using the flu's scientific name.

The president stressed the government was still taking the virus very seriously, adding that even if this round turns out to be mild, the bug could return in a deadlier form during the next flu season.

New York officials said after a week of monitoring the disease that the city's outbreak gives little sign of spreading beyond a few pockets or getting more dangerous.

All but two of the city's confirmed cases so far involve people associated with the high school where the local outbreak began and where several students had recently returned from Mexico.

More than 1,000 students, parents and faculty there reported flu symptoms over just a few days last month. But since then, only a handful of new infections have been reported -- only eight students since last Sunday.

Almost everyone who became ill before then are either recovering or already well. The school, which was closed this past week, is scheduled to reopen Monday. No new confirmed cases were identified in the city on Friday, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the outbreak in New York had so far proved to be ''a relatively minor annoyance.''

In Mexico, where swine flu has killed at least 16 people and the confirmed case count has surpassed 300, the health secretary said few of the relatives of 86 suspected swine flu patients had caught the virus. Only four of the 219 relatives surveyed turned up as probable cases.

As recently as Wednesday, Mexican authorities said there were 168 suspected swine flu deaths in the country and almost 2,500 suspected cases. The officials have stopped updating that number and say those totals may have even been inflated.

Mexico shut down all but essential government services and private businesses Friday, the start of a five-day shutdown that includes a holiday weekend. Authorities there will use the break to determine whether emergency measures can be eased.

In the Mexican capital, there were no reports of deaths overnight -- the first time that has happened since the emergency was declared a week ago, said Mayor Marcelo Ebrard.

''This isn't to say we are lowering our guard or we think we no longer have problems,'' Ebrard said. ''But we're moving in the right direction.''

The U.S. case count rose to 155 on Friday, based on federal and state counts, although state laboratory operators believe the number is higher because they are not testing all suspected cases.

Worldwide, the total confirmed cases neared 600, although that number is also believed to be much larger. Besides the U.S. and Mexico, the virus has been detected in Canada, New Zealand, China, Israel and eight European nations.

There were still plenty of signs Friday of worldwide concern.

China decided to suspend flights from Mexico to Shanghai because of a case of swine flu confirmed in a flight from Mexico, China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

And in Hong Kong, hundreds of hotel guests and workers were quarantined after a tourist from Mexico tested positive for swine flu, Asia's first confirmed case.

Evoking the 2003 SARS outbreak, workers in protective suits and masks wiped down tables, floors and windows. Guests at the hotel waved to photographers from their windows.

Scientists looking closely at the H1N1 virus itself have found some encouraging news, said Nancy Cox, flu chief at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its genetic makeup doesn't show specific traits that showed up in the 1918 pandemic virus, which killed about 40 million to 50 million people worldwide.

''However, we know that there is a great deal that we do not understand about the virulence of the 1918 virus or other influenza viruses'' that caused serious illnesses, Cox said. ''So we are continuing to learn.''

She told The Associated Press that the swine flu virus also lacked genetic traits associated with the virulence of the bird flu virus, which grabbed headlines a few years ago and has killed 250 people, mostly in Asia.

Researchers will get a better idea of how dangerous this virus is over the next week to 10 days, said Peter Palese, a leading flu researcher with Mount Sinai Medical School in New York.

So far in the United States, he said, the virus appears to look and behave like the garden-variety flus that strike every winter. ''There is no real reason to believe this is a more serious strain,'' he said.

Palese said many adults probably have immune systems primed to handle the virus because it is so similar to another common flu strain.

As for why the illness has predominantly affected children and teenagers in New York, Palese said older people probably have more antibodies from exposure to similar types of flu that help them fight off infection.

''The virus is so close,'' he said.

In the United States, most of the people with swine flu have been treated at home. Only nine people are known to have ended up in the hospital, though officials suspect there are more.

In Mexico, officials have voiced optimism for two days that the worst may be over. But Dr. Scott F. Dowell of the CDC said it's hard to know whether the outbreak is easing up in Mexico. ''They're still seeing plenty of cases,'' Dowell said.

He said outbreaks in any given area might be relatively brief, so that they may seem to be ending in some areas that had a lot of illness a few weeks ago. But cases are occurring elsewhere, and national numbers in Mexico are not abating, he said.

A top Mexican medical officer questioned the World Health Organization's handling of the early signs of the swine flu scare, suggesting Thursday that a regional arm of the WHO had taken too long to notify WHO headquarters of about a unusually late rash of flu cases in Mexico.

The regional agency, however, provided a timeline to the AP suggesting it was Mexico that failed to respond to its request to alert other nations to the first hints of the outbreak.

The Mexican official, chief epidemiologist Dr. Miguel Angel Lezana, backtracked Friday, telling Radio Formula: ''There was no delay by the Mexican authorities, nor was there any by the World Health Organization.''

In the U.S., Obama said efforts were focused on identifying people who have the flu, getting medical help to the right places and providing clear advice to state and local officials and the public.

The president also said the U.S. government is working to produce a vaccine down the road, developing clear guidelines for school closings and trying to ensure businesses cooperate with workers who run out of sick leave.

He pointed out that regular seasonal flus kill about 36,000 people in the United States in an average year and send 200,000 to the hospital.


Are people this stupid?
The Writ & Rot of the RIGHT's pandemic paranoia

While the Department of Homeland Security and the Centers for Disease Control spent the week informing the public with details on the H1N1 virus, the right-wing noise machine spent the week misinforming the public with paranoid theories about the virus. Because the flu virus may have originated in Mexico, the story provided some on the right with an excuse to engage in some good-old fashioned immigrant-bashing and renew their calls for greater border security. The story also provided right-wing media figures with more fuel for their fear-mongering about the Obama administration.

As the story of the H1N1 virus emerged, it was initially referred to as the "swine flu," but the Obama administration called for moving away from that language because it was contributing to baseless fears that the virus had to do with pork consumption. This did not sit well with CNN's Lou Dobbs, who referred to people using the H1N1 terminology as "idiots" and claiming "they are out of their cotton pickin' minds." Such people include several of Dobbs' colleagues at CNN, including the network's chief medical correspondent.

In response to the administration's request for a name change, radio host Neil Boortz suggested calling the virus the "fajita flu." But that was one of Boortz's more tepid comments about the virus. Boortz stirred up fears that the virus was some sort of "bioterrorist" plot, asking, "What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans?" Similarly, radio host Michael Savage claimed, "There is certainly the possibility that our dear friends in the Middle East cooked this up in a laboratory somewhere in a cave and brought it to Mexico knowing that our incompetent government would not protect us from this epidemic because of our open-border policies." After all, Savage claimed, the terrorists might have known that Mexicans "are the perfect mules for bringing this virus into America."

It's hard to determine which came first -- the intolerance or the paranoia.

Indeed, they make conservative leader Rush Limbaugh's suggestions of a conspiracy on the part of the Obama administration seem just slightly less delusional. Limbaugh claimed: "All of this is by design. It's designed to get people to respond to government orders. ... It is designed to expand the role and power of government and schools, and the media just falls right in line with it."

Meanwhile, Fox News' Glenn Beck speculated that the administration's response might have been designed to get Kathleen Sebelius rapidly confirmed as Health and Human Services secretary: "She can be confirmed right out of the gate because of this swine flu. So don't look over here, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu, look at the swine flu. And she just goes right through the gate."

Thankfully, there were a few commentators urging restraint on the flu story. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough noted: "[T]here have been some irresponsible voices out there talking trying to link illegal immigration with this pandemic and that's just not the case at all. That's ignorant." And Fox's Shepard Smith remarked: "[E]verybody's emailing going, 'The illegals are bringing it across the border.' Relax! There's a flu outbreak going on, and you're worried about illegal immigration."

100 days of Obama misinformation

Wednesday marked President Obama's 100th day in office, and while most media used the occasion to evaluate the president's performance, Media Matters for America used it to examine the media's coverage of Obama over those 100 days.

The last 100 days saw media figures failing to consider the legacy of the Bush administration, framing of Obama as a social-fasc-commun-Nazi-McCarthy-Marxist, downplaying and joking about torture, dismissing global warming, smearing unions, claiming that Obama is going to "nationalize health care," scapegoating ACORN and immigrants and misreporting on earmarks on the stimulus package.

The period also saw an increased emergence of Obama Derangement Syndrome. Harkening back to attacks that were made during the Clinton administration, conservative media figures have asserted or suggested that Obama will sooner or later cede the sovereignty of the U.S. to the United Nations or some sort of one-world government, and repeatedly claimed that Obama is planning to take away people's guns.

In fact, the "Obama's going to take away your guns" claim is indicative of a mainstreaming of right-wing extremist culture by the conservative media that often includes violent and revolutionary rhetoric. Not surprisingly, after the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on right-wing extremist groups and the tactics they might use to attract new members, some conservative media figures decided that the report was actually targeting them, rather than seeing the report as a tool to help law enforcement officials.

And the last 100 days saw the rise of Fox News as the opposition-in-chief to the commander-in-chief. Fox News' opposition to the president has included repeated instances of the network trying to pass off GOP press releases, talking points and research as its own -- typos and all. Fox News even ran "FOXfacts" that were nearly identical to an op-ed written by a GOP congressman. But nothing could compare to the lengths a major news network went to in order to promote and encourage its viewers to attend "FNC Tax Day Tea Parties" in open protest of the Obama administration.

100 days of Limbaugh's attacks on Obama

Given all the outrageous comments and attacks of the last 100 days, Media Matters had a hard time choosing the worst media moment and asked our readers to decide. The winner was Rush Limbaugh's comment, "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black."

Indeed, Limbaugh has spent the first 100 days of Obama's presidency repeating and elaborating on his claim that he wants Obama to fail, as well as attacking Obama for being "angry" and accusing him of wanting to "destroy" the United States of America. A review of his falsehoods and attacks illustrates his commitment to personally leading the charge against anything and everything Obama does as president:

Day 3: Setting a disturbing tone for the next four years of his attacks, Limbaugh says: "We are being told that we have to hope he succeeds, that we have to bend over, grab the ankles ... because his father was black."
Day 7: Limbaugh says that getting the "truth" out about Obama is "gonna be an epic battle, as Saddam Hussein said. Saddam Hussein Obama said."
Day 21: In an all-too-common moment of self-aggrandizement, Limbaugh declares of Obama's first few weeks in office: "I've crashed the honeymoon. ... I've hijacked it, in fact."
Day 25: Limbaugh declares: "I want the stimulus package to fail. ... I want everything he's doing to fail."
Day 29: Demonstrating his deep disdain for Democrats, Limbaugh says of calls for "bipartisanship" in fixing the economic crisis: "Should Jesus have made a deal with Satan?"
Day 39: Limbaugh throws Republicans under the bus: "The dirty little secret ... is that every Republican in this country wants Obama to fail, but none of them have the guts to say so. I am willing to say it."
Day 40: Limbaugh speaks at the CPAC conference in Washington, D.C., thrashing Obama and the Democrats in front of a fervent crowd. Limbaugh says: "How did the United States of America become the world's lone superpower, the world's economic engine, the most prosperous opportunity for an advanced lifestyle that humanity has ever known? How did this happen? And why, pray tell, does the president of the United States want to destroy it?"
Day 42: Responding to comments from RNC chairman Michael Steele that Limbaugh's rhetoric was "incendiary" and "ugly" - comments Steele would later walk back -- Limbaugh says of Steele: "Why do you claim that you are leading the Republican Party when you are obsessed with seeing to it the President Obama succeeds?"
Day 58: Limbaugh claims that "everybody in the White House is in over their heads in fixing" the economic crisis and says those in the White House are "perfectly timed, perfectly programmed, perfectly educated to destroy capitalism ... and they're in the process of doing it."
Day 64: Limbaugh says of Obama: "He's taking away freedom incrementally each and every day."
Day 66: A poll claiming Americans think Obama will raise taxes yet still support him provides Limbaugh an opportunity to bash Obama and display some sexism: "They know he is lying through his teeth and they still support him. It just means this, what women have always known: 'Cheat on me, just don't tell me about it.' "
Day 67: Limbaugh issues a pseudo-apology for saying that: "[W]hile my closing comment yesterday was certainly a comment containing a large element of truth, it still perhaps was inappropriate and so for that, I apologize." Yet, later in the show, Limbaugh returns to the rhetoric, saying of Obama: "He's a cult leader. Battered liberal syndrome. 'Cheat on me, just don't tell me.' "
Day 70: Limbaugh says: "Based on what we've seen with General Motors and the banks, if he fails, America is saved. Barack Obama's policies and their failure is the only hope we've got to maintain the America of our founding."
Day 80: Limbaugh uses the kidnapping of an American sea captain by Somali pirates to attack Obama and the Democrats: "Piracy is rebounding precisely because of the American left and the European left's lack of intestinal fortitude -- gonads, if you will." He later added: "The Democrat Party -- enemies of America are friends of the Democrat Party."
Day 84: Following the rescue of the sea captain, and after previously bashing Obama for his handling of the situation, Limbaugh says he "was confident this was going to get settled. It was going to be resolved on way or the other way and regardless how, President Obama was going to be given credit for it."
Day 85: Limbaugh predictably reacts to the leaking of a Department of Homeland Security report on "right-wing extremism" distorting the conclusions of the report, claiming Obama and DHS head Janet Napolitano are "extreme partisan radicals and they're ready to go war with a domestic enemy - conservatives - that they consider to be a greater threat than Iran, than China, than North Korea."
Day 86: Limbaugh steers his listeners toward empathizing with right-wing extremists by falsely claiming that "Obama's DHS report" called "every mainstream conservative a right-wing extremist."
Day 88: Limbaugh reacts to the Obama administration's release of previously classified Justice Department memos detailing interrogation techniques that were authorized to be used on detainees by claiming: "[I]f you look at what we are calling torture, you have to laugh." He went on to assert: "I just slapped myself. I'm torturing myself right now. That's torture according to these people."
Day 91: In a comment emblematic of Limbaugh's frequent linking of Obama with Marxist and socialist leaders, Limbaugh asks: "Do you realize that Obama and [Venezuelan President Hugo] Chavez have more in common than they do not?"
Day 100: Limbaugh gives Obama a "D" for his first 100 days, saying "We gotta allow room for more failure, cause it's gonna get worse."
There should be little doubt that for the next three years and nine months, Rush Limbaugh will continue his daily assault on President Obama. Limbaugh's attacks on President Bill Clinton in his first couple years in office were credited with helping Republicans take control of the House in 1994. If Obama does fail -- and the rest of America with him -- Limbaugh will deserve the credit he will be all too happy to accept.

Notable quotes this week:

On the radio show Brian & The Judge, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade said Sen. John McCain "should not be allowed to talk on torture because he is clearly somebody who went through unspeakable pain and punishment," adding that his views are "skewed" because he was tortured.
Days after making headlines for exclaiming, "We are America ... We don't fucking torture," Fox News' Shep Smith stated: "Pol Pot was a big fan of this waterboarding action. Now we get some lawyers around the table and want to pretend like it's not torture."
In his profile of Rush Limbaugh for Time magazine's "World's Most Influential People" feature, Glenn Beck wrote: "His consistency, insight and honesty have earned him a level of trust with his listeners that politicians can only dream of."
Interviewing Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) about Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to join the Democratic party, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez responded to DeMint's comment that the "biggest tent of all is the tent of freedom" by stating: "What the hell does that mean? The biggest tent is freedom? Freedom? I mean, you gotta do better than that." MEDIA MATTERS.ORG

Conservatives gear up for high court fight

Phone lines around Washington began burning this morning as conservative organizations kicked off preparations for the fight over President Obama's eventual Supreme Court nominee.

Associate Justice David Souter's decision to step down at the end of this term has awakened a long-dormant network of conservative organizations that will do their best to augment — and at times pressure — Senate Republican efforts to frame Obama's eventual choice.

A group of more than 50 conservative groups held a conference call early Friday to begin plotting strategy, sources on the call said.

"You're already having chatter between conservatives on who is going to be the nominee, what type of nominee is going to be put forward by President Obama," said Brian Darling, the Heritage Foundation's Senate director and a former top Judiciary Committee staffer.

Groups like the American Center for Law & Justice, the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary and the Committee for Justice will all prepare background research on potential nominees, setting up the eventual, inevitable attacks on the nominee as a left-wing extremist.

Those groups are gearing up for the first time since helping doom the nomination of former White House counsel Harriet Miers in President Bush's second term and replacing her with Samuel Alito.

"We'll be organized. We're more organized than ever before," said Jay Sekulow, the prominent conservative lawyer who heads the American Center for Law & Justice. "The reality is we've got quite a challenge here with a Democratic Senate that's virtually filibuster-proof."

Sekulow also pointed to the fact that Senate Republicans have yet to designate a point person on the nomination. The GOP lost its top judicial spokesperson this week when Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), who had been the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, bolted for the Democratic Party.

Republican members of the Judiciary panel will meet next week to pick a new ranking member from amongst themselves. Senate aides say Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the fourth-ranking member on the panel, has the inside edge.

Recognizing their deficit in the Senate, Sekulow and other conservative operatives said Sessions could be counted on at least to question the eventual nominee closely, as two Bush nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito, were scrutinized during their confirmation hearings.

"We'd like a real hearing. They put John Roberts and Sam Alito through very aggressive questioning," Sekulow said. "There's going to be some real tough questions."

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said conversations about the Supreme Court vacancy have already begun between leadership offices at a staff level. "The leadership's already engaged on this," he said.

No formal war room or team has been set up yet, as Souter has not even formally announced he will step down.

Though the new nominee is still unnamed, several top Republican operatives are already sending background documents to reporters, questioning oft-mentioned candidates' fitness for the highest court in the nation.

"Part of our strategy was already done," said Curt Levey, executive director of the Committee for Justice. "We have all our research memos done on all the top people."

Early front-runners for the bogeyman nod have cropped up: Darling mentioned Yale University Law School Dean Harold Koh, whom he called "very extreme." Sekulow specifically called out 2nd Circuit Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, an early favorite for the nod, as "to the left of David Souter."

"This is not my ideal situation," said Kay Daly, president of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary. "Obama could conceivably put a justice onto the bench that literally would make Souter look like [Associate Justice Antonin] Scalia."

Some conservative groups see the chance to define President Obama based on his pick. After all, assuming the new justice is installed before the court begins its 2009-'10 term on October 5, that person will have three full terms under his or her belt by the time Obama seeks reelection in 2012.

And with a bevy of hot-button issues set to make their way to the high court, opinions and decisions the new justice writes and joins will be fodder for Republicans hoping to gin up their conservative base.

"It seems like out of the gate [Obama] didn't seem terribly nervous about going pretty hard left," Daly said.

"This is a battle that is very important to the president. It's very important that the president nominates somebody who doesn't embarrass him," Darling said.

Conservative organizations are most worried about potential nominees who have already been confirmed by the Senate, and thus who have already been vetted. Even appointees who generated significant controversy, like Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, would likely be confirmed.

"When you are talking about nominees who have already passed the confirmation process recently, even if they're controversial, that makes the process so much easier," Darling said.

Conservative activists, though, recognize that a filibuster is not likely.

"Even the Democrats, who took the filibuster to new levels, ultimately weren't able to use it against Bush's nominee," Levey said. Still, he added: "We're all looking forward to a good fight." Reid Wilson The HILL