Fight Over SCOTUS Seat Will Spike Advocacy

The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will launch fierce advocacy campaigns as Republicans and Democrats fight over whether to confirm her replacement this year.

While Supreme Court nominations always swell grassroots advocacy—the numbers for Justice Brett Kavanaugh were impressive—the battle over Ginsburg’s seat will almost certainly drive more action. 

The issue is likely to dominate the presidential election in coming days and a fight is underway in the Senate, which will confirm Ginsburg’s replacement. President Trump has committed to nominate a woman and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is working to solidify votes. 

The issue will bring about a major partisan clash. Ginsburg was an icon of the left, and her dying wish was to have her replacement named by the next president. Left-leaning organizations will fight to delay a nomination until next year, in hopes that Democrats will retake the White House and the Senate. Republicans will oppose this effort, looking to solidify a conservative majority on the court by filling Ginsburg’s seat this year. Right-leaning organizations are already pushing to expedite a confirmation. 

With traditional lobbying still hobbled by social distancing requirements, the battle will largely be fought using grassroots activism and other forms of digital advocacy.

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Kavanaugh Fight By the Numbers

Supreme Court nominations often ignited major partisan fights and few were bigger than Kavanaugh’s confirmation. From his nomination by Trump July 19 of 2018 to his 51-49 confirmation vote in the Senate Oct. 5, the parties fought for months. Along the way, Kavanaugh endured several days of tense, televised hearings, including one in which a California woman accused him of sexual misconduct while in high school.

Advocacy groups were also in high gear. Organizations launched 95 campaigns, activating more than 208,000 people and enabling more than 2.4 million emails, calls and tweets to Congress between July 19 and Oct. 5, according to Phone2Action’s State of Advocacy data. The Supreme Court fight accounted for 43 percent of all lawmaker connections made on the Phone2Action platform during that period. The campaigns drove more than 31,000 people to call lawmakers, accounting for more than two thirds of all calls to Congress on the platform. 

On Sept. 27 alone, the day that Kavanaugh testified in the Senate about the allegations, 21 organizations launched 36 campaigns and drove almost 4,200 people to take action—including almost 3,400 calls to Congress. 

One unique story was EarthJustice, which created a Kavanaugh campaign after 7 p.m. one day and, within three hours, saw more than 700 advocates make more than 300 phone calls.

Republicans in the Spotlight 

In the coming battle over Ginsburg’s replacement, who will receive a lifetime appointment, most advocacy will target the Senate, particularly Senate Republicans. 

The chamber is now in Republican hands by a 53-to-47 margin (that includes two independents who caucus with Democrats), meaning Republicans have the muscle to secure a confirmation—if they can keep their members in line. 

With all Democrats expected to oppose a nomination, the issue is likely to be decided by a handful of moderate Republicans who could oppose a confirmation this year. Two Republican Senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have already said they oppose such a nomination. Others have said they will back the president’s selection. 

Any undecided senator, as well as all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which confirms Supreme Court candidates, are likely to be the target of massive lobbying and advocacy.   

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