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Conservatives Lobby Around Supreme Court Nomination


And there may be a rough-and-tumble presidential election underway, but there is still plenty of room for a battle over President Obama's nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. Always, the nomination of a Supreme Court justice brings out armies of advocates for and against. Their messages flow into senators' offices and onto the airwaves in many states, NPR's Peter Overby has more.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: The first attack ad went up before there even was a nominee.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Tell your senator Jane Kelly doesn't belong on the Supreme Court.

OVERBY: That was from the conservative group Judicial Crisis Network. Jane Kelly's a federal appeals judge. She was on a White House list of possible nominees. She's also from Iowa just like Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, who's in charge of the confirmation process and has vowed not to consider any nominee before the election. As for whether the ad slamming Kelly had any impact on her chances, Carrie Severino, director of Judicial Crisis Network, said she isn't really sure.

CARRIE SEVERINO: It's hard to know. I know at least one article suggested that the White House was more skeptical of her nomination.

OVERBY: But the damage to Judge Kelly's reputation may be minor compared to what's coming from both sides.

SEVERINO: Now that we have a solid nominee, we can devote our efforts to really looking more deeply into Merrick Garland, and we are certainly keeping people apprised as we're finding new information out.

OVERBY: The battle is on two fronts, Garland's record and the GOP position against any Obama nomination. Kelly Ayotte is a Republican senator from New Hampshire. It's a swing state, and she's up for reelection. So she's been targeted by Judicial Crisis Network.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: The Supreme Court has a vacancy, and your vote in November is your only voice. Senator Kelly Ayotte agrees the American people should decide.

OVERBY: And from the other side, by End Citizens United PAC.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Refusing even to meet with a nominee, all for political gain.

OVERBY: Marge Baker is vice-president of the Progressive People for the American Way, which is mobilizing its members.

MARGE BAKER: Senate will be in recess. And I expect that they will hear from - be hearing from - their constituents when they're home on recess, when they're back in D.C.

OVERBY: Amazingly, this isn't just a partisan battle. In Iowa, a nonpartisan group called Justice Not Politics wants Grassley to hold a hearing. It ran a TV ad featuring retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.


SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I think we need somebody there now to do the job, and let's get on with it.

OVERBY: Connie Ryan is director of Justice Not Politics.

CONNIE RYAN: That third branch of government is supposed to be separate from the politics of all of it. And I'm not naive enough to believe that that is entirely true, but that's the hope anyway.

OVERBY: But it's a hope that's long since faded away in the U.S. Senate. Peter Overby NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.