Nov 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Conservative group targets Biden court pick ahead of Mississippi abortion case

A screenshot shows a snipped from a TV ad against a Biden judicial pick, the ACLU's Dale Ho.
A screenshot from an ad targeting Dale Ho. Courtesy: Judicial Crisis Network

A conservative group is targeting Dale Ho, President Biden’s judicial nominee to serve on the Southern District Court of New York, with a six-figure ad buy — launching the first TV campaign against a Biden court pick.

Why it matters: The Supreme Court is set to hear a Mississippi abortion law case on Wednesday, and conservatives and progressives are bracing for the political fallout from additional legal showdowns, as well as a battle over the president’s effort to fill some 70 vacancies throughout the federal judiciary.

  • The more than $300,000 cable and digital buy against Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union voting rights project, accuses him of being “a career puppet for left-wing, dark-money groups.” He was nominated in September and is awaiting a Senate committee hearing, potentially as early as this week.
  • The ad is from the Judicial Crisis Network, which also relies on so-called "dark money."
  • The group spent $10 million to get now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett confirmed to the Supreme Court, and its spending now is an indication conservatives are willing to spend big to try to stop — or, at least, slow — Biden's court picks.

The big picture: During Biden’s first 10 months in office, the Senate has confirmed 28 of his district and appellate court judges, with another 36 awaiting a final vote, according to a scorecard from Demand Justice, a progressive group focused on the judiciary.

  • During President Trump’s first year, he had one Supreme Court justice and 16 lower-court judges confirmed.
  • In his four years, Trump, working with then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had 234 judges — including two more Supreme Court justices — confirmed.
  • President Obama got one Supreme Court justice confirmed during his first year but only an additional nine district and appellate judges after Republicans made a concerted effort to block his court picks.

Conservatives spent most of their energy during 2021 focusing on Biden’s Department of Justice picks, launching unsuccessful campaigns against Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke to lead the civil rights division.

  • Now, they're starting to focus on judges, calling attention to Ho’s history of advocating for progressive causes.
  • They have an eye on a potential Supreme Court vacancy in 2022.

Go deeper: Democrats are hopeful Justice Stephen Breyer will retire this year, giving the president a chance to nominate a liberal judge to replace him before the Republicans potentially win back the Senate in 2022.

  • As the oldest member of the court at 83, Breyer has been vague about his future plans, telling the New York Times in August, “I don’t like making decisions about myself.”
  • Biden has promised to name a Black female to the court with his first pick.

What they are saying: “The same far-right judicial groups are also tied to voter-suppression schemes in states across the country, and so whenever President Biden nominates a person of color with a civil rights background, they go on the attack,” said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon.

  • “Dale Ho is the prime example of how President Biden has allowed his judicial selection process to be dominated by the extremists on the dark-money left," said Carrie Severino, the president of the Judicial Crisis Network.
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