With Trump's Supreme Court Pick Looming, Left-Leaning Group Mobilizes In Opposition

Jul 3, 2018
Originally published on July 3, 2018 6:55 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is still deciding who he will appoint to serve on the Supreme Court, and left-leaning groups are already mobilizing in opposition. One group known as Demand Justice is leading the charge. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson brings us this profile of the group.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: One day after Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Demand Justice rallied in front of the Supreme Court.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Mitch McConnell, shame on you. The people deserve a say, too. Mitch McConnell, shame on you. The people deserve a say, too.

JOHNSON: Activists backing civil rights and abortion rights mixed with Democratic senators on the steps of the court. Sarah Chieffo brought along her tiny daughter, Lucy.

SARAH CHIEFFO: We need...

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CHIEFFO: ...A Supreme Court justice that's going to uphold our values of our democracy, enforce our nation's laws that protect her health, the clean air, clean water she needs to thrive. And there's so much at stake here, so that's why we're here this morning. Being a D.C. kid, there's a lot to protest these days.

JOHNSON: It's actually baby Lucy's second protest. Chieffo took her last year to oppose President Trump's first Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch, but Gorsuch was confirmed without much trouble in 2017 after the Senate voted to change its rules and clear the way for Supreme Court justices to win approval based on a simple 51-vote majority. That shift will make it a lot harder for Democrats to derail Trump's next nominee. Brian Fallon used to work for the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer. Now he's running Demand Justice.

BRIAN FALLON: We do not have a majority of Democrats in the Senate, that is true, but we do have a majority in the Senate on the two key issues that we think will define the fight. We do have a majority in the Senate that think that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, and we do have a majority of votes in the Senate that think that the Affordable Care Act should not be gutted.

JOHNSON: The challenge, Fallon says, is motivating grassroots communities interested in those issues to engage over the Supreme Court vacancy and to do it in a hurry. Demand Justice is just five months old, and it faces some long odds. Conservative groups that support the president's judges are expected to outspend opponents by millions of dollars. Carrie Severino is a former clerk for Justice Clarence Thomas and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network.

CARRIE SEVERINO: Judges are forever. They're not really forever. They're for life, but that is almost the same thing here. This is a generational impact and will affect how everything the president even does on the executive order front, regulations, on the legislation is interpreted and applied going forward.

JOHNSON: Severino says conservative voters unite around the issue of judges, but it's harder for Democrats. Consider this - a few weeks ago, before the newest Supreme Court vacancy, Demand Justice conducted a focus group in Columbus, Ohio. Ten Democratic-leaning women sat around a table eating snacks and chatting about their community. Several of the women worried about the president's tweets and about new restrictions on clinics that perform abortions. Then, the moderator asked this...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So let's talk a little bit about Anthony Kennedy. Is everyone familiar with who he is?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: OK. How many people don't know who he is? So one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - OK, got it. So he is a Supreme Court justice, just so you all know that.

JOHNSON: Brian Fallon, who runs Demand Justice, says women in that focus group got more involved after they understood Justice Kennedy was the swing vote on abortion rights. Now, Fallon's got to find a way to communicate that message more broadly and to do it by August when the hearings for Kennedy's replacement are likely to begin. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.