By ROB HOTAKAINEN AND MELISSA LEE
July 05, 2005
He was crossing John Ireland Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., when his cell phone rang with news that Sandra Day O'Connor had decided to call it quits. Within minutes, Stanley had 500 "rapid responders" ready to make a little noise. There were 100,000 doors to knock on, senators to call, petitions to gather, plans to finalize for a rush-hour "visibility" event.
"Roe versus Wade has been kept alive by Sandra Day O'Connor," said Stanley, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota. "The only way it's not going to disappear is if pro-choice Americans and pro-choice Minnesotans stand up and scream loudly that the right to privacy exists. The screaming started an hour and a half ago."
The first Supreme Court vacancy in 11 years has unleashed a huge and emotional grass-roots campaign that ultimately could decide the future of abortion, affirmative action and an array of other volatile social issues. After year of preparation, both sides said they were ready to use millions of dollars for a presidential-style campaign that will rely on armies of activists to influence the votes of U.S. senators.
"The American people are focused -- the games have begun," said Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition.
Opening-day activity was fast and fierce.
At MoveOn PAC, e-mail alerts were sent to 3.5 million members.
"Some of our basic freedoms are at stake here," said Ben Brandzel, the group's advocacy director. "The balance on the court is basically up in the air."
The NAACP announced plans for rallies throughout the country. It urged its 500,000 members to write letters to the White House and phone their senators.
"We're very concerned right now," said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau. He praised O'Connor's views on affirmative action and the death penalty but worried a more "extremist" justice would not follow suit.
And religious groups called on Christians to pray outside the Supreme Court and Capitol when hearings begin on a replacement for O'Connor, who angered anti-abortion groups.
"We are already praying and working for a nominee that will not waffle, as she did," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the National Clergy Council.
People for the American Way, which has led the opposition to President Bush's judicial nominees, said it will rely on a 2,500-square foot "war room" in Washington in the coming months. The group is conducting opposition research on prospective court nominees, with more than 60 staffers working in its D.C. office alone.
Progress for America, a leading conservative advocacy group Progress for America, said it has pledged $18 million to combat any challenges to a replacement chosen by Bush. The group has unveiled a $700,000 advertising campaign to warn the public that a nominee could face "distorted" attacks from the left.
"We urge liberals to give genuine consideration instead of instant attacks to any potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee," the group's president, Brian McCabe, said.
While abortion-rights advocates called on Bush to appoint a moderate judge and to consult with Democratic senators, the Rev. Louis Sheldon, founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, dismissed the idea. The group is the nation's largest grass-roots church lobby.
Sheldon said the president isn't legally required to consult with anyone. And he said that Bush needs to appoint a moderate to replace O'Connor is a "myth which is being advanced by the liberals."
Abortion-rights supporters, who were preparing for a resignation from Chief Justice William Rehnquist, feared that Bush would move quickly to appoint an anti-abortion judge who would help overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion in 1973.
Robynne Curlee, organizing director for NARAL Pro Choice Minnesota, said that losing O'Connor instead of Rehnquist "was really shocking and distressful" and "adds that little bit of extra urgency" to the group's efforts. She planned to position a group of five to 10 sign-wavers late near I-94 and Snelling on Friday, hoping to get some positive thumbs-up signs and horn honks from passers-by.
"We had the signs ready to whip out" whenever a Supreme Court justice resigned, she said. The signs read, "Choose Justice / No Freedom without Choice."
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