WASHINGTON — With the spotlight in Washington this week on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, an army of outside partisan groups has set up rapid response operations to both defend and prosecute Barrett’s record and try to sway public opinion.
Barrett’s nomination is moving forward despite objections from Democrats that President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans are rushing to push through the process just three weeks before Election Day and as millions of voters across the country are already voting.
Barrett’s nomination is the latest in a string of increasingly partisan and contentious Supreme Court confirmation fights — and advocacy groups on both sides have created war rooms, spent tens of millions of dollars on advertising and organized protests and rallies to be part of the conversation.
Article III Project, a new organization pushing to confirm conservative judges to the federal bench, will operate a 24-person war room, including crisis communicators and 15 lawyers, to fact-check and send rapid responses to journalists in real time. The group plans to be present in media appearances on the airwaves and online to defend Barrett and challenge Democrats.
Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics
The group, founded by Mike Davis, who was top counsel to Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, when he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee, was instrumental in pushing through the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious hearings two years ago.
The organization has already launched “Biden’s Short List,” a website of potential “radical” Supreme Court nominees under a Biden administration.
“We are taking off the gloves, putting on the brass knuckles and punching back against the Democrats’ attacks on Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s faith and family,” Davis said.
On the left, grassroots activists are planning protests at the Supreme Court, on Capitol Hill and outside the California office of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. The activists called Barrett’s nomination a “sham” process and are pressuring Democrats to do everything in their power to delay and disrupt the proceeding.
“We can’t have Democrats participate in an illegitimate process brought on by an impeached president,” said Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a progressive advocacy group. “The Democrats are getting lured into the trap of arguing about [Republicans’] morality, and we are trying to help them understand that these [Republicans] are not interested in ethics, but they want to help this president hoard power should there be a contested election.”
Epps-Addison said progressive advocates have made thousands of calls to senators opposing Barrett’s confirmation. Indivisible, another progressive group, is encouraging phone banking sessions to “Save SCOTUS.”
The politics of Supreme Court confirmation hearings started to heat up during the 1987 confirmation hearing for Judge Robert Bork when Democrats unleashed brutal attacks, resulting in his defeat on the Senate floor. Four years later, Judge Clarence Thomas’ confirmation was nearly derailed by allegations of sexual assault by Anita Hill.
After years of such bitter battles, both sides are prepared for the public relations fight, especially with an election so close.
On Monday, the first day of Barrett’s hearings, Demand Justice and MoveOn are hosting an event honoring the life of Ginsburg, featuring Hillary Clinton, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. Actors Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell and Jessica Biel, musicians Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus and progressive leaders are also joining.
The event’s landing page says opponents “must channel [Ginsburg’s] unstoppable determination as we call on our senators to honor her dying wish that there be no confirmation until inauguration.”
In addition, tens of millions of dollars have been spent on advertising, mostly in the battleground states of Iowa, Maine, North Carolina and Colorado, where vulnerable Senate Republicans face intense pressure over the nomination of Barrett, a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Conservatives are highlighting Barrett’s biography as a woman, a wife and a mother to seven children, as well as the respect she has received as a lawyer, a professor of the University of Notre Dame and a circuit judge.
The conservative group Judicial Crisis Network has spent $8 million on television ads, including two that were launched Sunday featuring two women, one a student at Notre Dame and the other one of Barrett’s clerks.
Liberal groups who are running ads in battleground states, including South Carolina, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham faces a tight contest, are focusing on health care. If she is confirmed before Election Day, one of the first cases Barrett would hear is an attempt by the Trump administration and Republican states to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Two of the latest MoveOn.org Political Action ads will focus on Ginsburg’s legacy and the importance of fighting to protect health care and Roe v. Wade.