For Immediate Release
Thursday, January 26, 2006
Dorothy Benz, 212 998–6318
Jesse Rutledge, Justice at Stake, 202 588–9454
Three Nominations Reveal Contrasting Influence of
Interest Groups in High Court Nomination Process
Study Documents Over $7.5 Million in Interest Group TV Ads in Year-Long Battle Over Federal Judgeships
NEW YORK AND WASHINGTON, DC The influence of interest groups on the confirmation of nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court varies according to a complex set of political factors, according to a new analysis of the role of the groups and their television advertising campaigns issued today by the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law and the Justice at Stake Campaign. The analysts conclude that while the spending levels never reached the stratosphere, interest group spending on television ads and other lobbying tools can have a potent effect on who becomes a judge in America.
Interest group spending on television ads was lower than predicted when Justice OConnor announced her retirement, said Deborah Goldberg, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. But the similar expenditure levels by supporters and opponents of the nominees means that, in the aggregate, viewers received a reasonably balanced introduction to the issues at stake in the battle over Supreme Court nominations.
Activity by many of the interest groups in the high court nomination battles was foreshadowed by their sizeable TV spending earlier in 2005, when the Senate was brought to the brink of nuclear war in the filibuster battle, said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake. This should remind us that the confirmation of Justice Alito does not necessarily mean weve seen the last TV ad.
This is the final report in a series of news releases that have documented the spending (see attached chart), strategies, content and tactics that interest groups have used seeking to influence Senators considering the Presidents high court nominees, with a focus on television advertising. The data for the project has been gathered by TNS-Media Intelligence/CMAG, which tracks the nations top 100 broadcast markets and national cable advertising and provides estimates on the cost of each TV spot. The complete series of news releases is available online at brennancenter.org and justiceatstake.org.
Case Study #1 John Roberts. Nominated July 19, confirmed September 29.
Conservative interest groups moved rapidly to help define the candidacy of John Roberts, issuing soft-focus biography spots of the judge and urging an up or down vote on his candidacy via a national cable advertising campaign. Liberal groups moved tentatively to oppose Roberts, with many waiting weeks into his candidacy before announcing their opposition. A well-prepared conservative campaign helped quickly solidify Judge Roberts reputation. The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and President Bushs decision to re-nominate Roberts to the Chief Justices seat may have shifted focus to the next nomination, which was perceived to have higher stakes.
Case Study #2 Harriet Miers. Nominated October 3, withdrew October 27. Conservative interest groups helped sink the Miers nomination, in part by flexing their muscle in spending on television ads. With conservatives divided, the group closest to the White House, Progress for America, ran only a few early ads urging that the Senate give Miers an up or down vote, leaving a massive communications vacuum and the reputation of the nominee undefined. A newly-created conservative group, Americans for Better Justice, began running ads featuring criticisms of Miers qualifications by luminaries like Judge Robert Bork. Although the group spent only $10,650 on TV ads, the spots legitimized and fueled a rebellion within the Presidents coalition that sunk her nomination. Liberal groups did not spend any money on TV ads to oppose the Miers nomination.
Case Study #3 Samuel Alito. Nominated October 31, confirmed January 31. The Alito nomination spurred the most hard fought battle with interest group spending reaching double what was spent over Roberts. Most major liberal groups announced their opposition within hours, and for the first time since last summer they took the lead in the ad wars. Conservative groups spent more than a million dollars working to activate their base with cable television buys, while liberal groups divided their advertising budget between criticisms of Alito on national cable and targeting potential swing vote Senators.
Interest Group TV Advertising Breakdown in Judicial Confirmation Battles March 18, 2005 – January 29, 2006
Nuclear Option Advertising
Spending by liberal groups on television ads: $2,318,628
Spending by conservative groups on television ads: $ 999,629
Total spending on television ads: $3,318,257
Pre-Nomination Ads Focused on Supreme Court
Spending by liberal groups on television ads: $ 158,249
Spending by conservative groups on television ads: $ 85,269
Total spending on television ads: $ 243,518
Case Study #1 John Roberts
Spending by liberal groups on television ads: $ 454,456
Spending by conservative groups on television ads: $ 849,472
Total spending on television ads: $1,303,928
Case Study #2 Harriet Miers
Spending by liberal groups on television ads: $ 0
Spending by conservative groups on television ads: $ 324,580
Total spending on television ads: $ 324,580
Case Study #3 Samuel Alito
Spending by liberal groups on television ads: $1,365,857
Spending by conservative groups on television ads: $1,041,535
Total spending on television ads: $2,407,392
GRAND TOTAL $7,597,675
Liberal groups $4,297,190
Conservative groups $3,300,485
[Amount spent on television advertising by interest groups in the 2004 state supreme court elections] $7,393,689*
*See: Justice at Stake, The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2004, June 2005, p. 6.