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Liberal Groups Rally Against Roberts’ Nomination to Court<P>By David D. Kirkpatrick THE NEW YORK TIMES <P>WASHINGTON <P>

Liberal Groups Rally Against

Roberts’ Nomination to Court

By David D. Kirkpatrick


It was an anxious August for liberal interest groups battling the nomination of Judge John G. Roberts Jr. to the Supreme Court.

In the past week, about 30 groups — including the NAACP, Naral Pro-Choice, the National Organization for Women, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, as well as Hispanic organizations like the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund — formally and forcefully called on the Senate to reject Roberts.

But as they scramble to rally grass-roots supporters in the days before the confirmation hearings and the month before the Senate is expected to vote, some opposition groups worried that their efforts had failed to pierce the din of concerns about rising gasoline prices, Iraq and, most recently, the hurricane devastation in New Orleans.

“Now there is this hurricane,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, who suggested in exasperation Thursday that the Senate Judiciary Committee should postpone the confirmation hearings, scheduled to begin Tuesday, because the hurricane was distracting attention from debate on the nomination. “This has got to get more visibility,” Smeal said. “We have to do something.”

Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he, too, was hoping for more time. “With the White House releasing documents as slowly as it has been doing, we would think that the entire Senate would want to be more circumspect,” he said.

Still, some opponents of the nomination expressed confidence that their criticism of Roberts’ views was registering with Senate Democrats. Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, said he was growing increasingly confident that the nomination would be defeated.

“There is growing evidence that the confirmation would move the court dramatically to the right, and that is information that the senators did not have before the end of July,” Neas said.“Our message has been that these hearings will have a major impact on 2006 and 2008,” Neas said. If Roberts votes against liberal causes, he added, “Democrats are going to be blamed if they were complicit in the confirmation.”

In addition to their main Democratic champions on the committee, Sens. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts and Charles E. Schumer of New York, officials of the liberal groups say they will be watching Sens. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware and Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, potential Democratic presidential candidates.

The officials say they also expect a vigorous fight from Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the panel’s only woman and a major recipient of donations from feminists and supporters of abortion rights.

Last week, Neas said angrily that the Democrats’ caucus had left the impression that Roberts faced little resistance. Later that day, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, and Kennedy, a committee veteran, each sent a letter stepping up their criticism of Roberts.