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D.C. group tight-lipped on ads in high court race

by Frank E. Lockwood | February 19, 2016 at 5:45 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The Judicial Crisis Network, a group spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to influence the outcome of an Arkansas Supreme Court race, is declining to answer questions about its involvement in the campaign.

Under federal law, the group isn't required to disclose the identities of the people who are contributing money for ads targeting state Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson. Goodson is a candidate for chief justice and faces Circuit Judge Dan Kemp of Mountain View.

The organization, which sublets space from Americans for Tax Reform on the fifth floor of a downtown Washington office building, has not responded to requests for comment. And Wednesday, when a reporter knocked on the Judicial Crisis Network's door, its counsel, Jonathan Keim, declined to comment.

"You should not be here. Let me show you out," he said, blaming Americans for Tax Reform for not blocking access to the floor where the Judicial Crisis Network and several other groups have offices.

The group's officials did not respond to additional requests Thursday for an interview that were left with its public relations firm.

In recent years, the group has targeted candidates for state benches in Michigan, North Carolina and elsewhere, according to media reports.

Initially known as the Judicial Confirmation Network, the group worked to gain support for President George W. Bush's judicial nominees. Since the election of President Barack Obama, however, the group has worked to derail presidential picks for the federal bench.

Thursday, the group announced plans for an ad campaign of at least $1 million calling on lawmakers to delay votes on any U.S. Supreme Court nominations until after the November presidential elections.

"The American people are fed up with Washington politicians, and the selection of the next justice is simply too important to leave to politics as usual. Give the people a voice. Let them decide in November what kind of Court they want," the group's Chief Counsel and Policy Director Carrie Severino said in a statement posted on the group's website.

In 2005, the group was committed to speeding up the judicial selection process and denounced "obstructionists" for blocking votes on Bush nominees.

In a news release, Gary Marx, the group's executive director at the time, said, "Our message is simple, the people want the Senate to do its work and our petition will remind Senators that they have an obligation to bring these nominations to the floor for a fair vote."

At a news conference, the group's legal counsel at the time, Wendy Long, said her organization had already started "grass-roots citizens efforts" in Arkansas and in five other "red states that have blue senators" to press for up-or-down votes on Bush judicial nominees.

By 2009, the group was organizing Arkansans to oppose Obama nominees, linking with representatives of the National Rifle Association, the Family Council, Arkansas Federalist Society and the Republican Party of Arkansas to oppose Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the nation's high court.

And in 2013, the group ran commercials targeting U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, accusing the Democrat of helping Obama stack the courts with "liberal activist judges." Pryor lost to Tom Cotton, a Republican, in 2014.

The Judicial Crisis Network doesn't always target Democrats. In 2014, the group attacked attorney general candidate Leslie Rutledge. Despite the barrage of critical campaign ads, Rutledge won the Republican nomination and defeated Democrat Nate Steel in November of that year.

Sometimes, the group tries to influence presidential races. In October 2008, it announced that it had exceeded $1.3 million on its "nationwide public education and membership campaign," including a quarter-million dollar ad purchase in Ohio and Pennsylvania as Election Day neared.

Two years ago, as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie prepared to run for president, the group ran ads accusing him of appointing liberal judges in his state.

A Section on 02/19/2016

Print Headline: D.C. group tight-lipped on ads in high court race


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