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For nine months after a successful November filibuster by Senate Democrats, little or nothing was said about last year’s nomination of California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown to the federal bench. She vanished from editorial pages and political talk shows. The rhetoric from the liberal and conservative fronts died down. And no one made any obvious efforts to revive the nomination. Then, in August, a group called the Congress of Racial Equality announced that it would air television advertisements in John Edwards’ home state of North Carolina, encouraging the Democratic vice presidential candidate to support the conservative — and controversial — Republican justice. The ads referred to Brown as “a black role model” and “an American success story” and asked Edwards and Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry to “stop blocking” her nomination. More importantly, the position taken by CORE directly contradicted other civil rights groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congressional Black Caucus, that have sharply opposed Brown’s nomination. The ads put Brown back in the limelight and amounted to an opening salvo in the renewed fight over Brown and President Bush’s nine other filibustered judicial nominees. Both Democratic and Republican activists predict that the nominees will become political cannon fodder in the battle for the presidency. Along that line, they expect Republicans to pressure Democrats by bringing the contentious nominations back up for a Senate vote before the Nov. 2 election. “I would not be surprised to see it come up on the Senate floor, or the names of the nominees, such as Brown, being mentioned by Bush or [Vice President Dick] Cheney,” says Elliot Mincberg, vice president and legal director of People for the American Way, a liberal group in Washington, D.C., that vehemently opposes Brown. Bush provided a hint of what’s to come during his Sept. 2 acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. He vowed to protect traditional marriage against “activist judges” and said he would continue to appoint federal judges “who know the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law.” Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum say whisper campaigns for and against Brown and other Bush judicial nominees are under way. Letter-writing drives will soon start, as will efforts to obtain editorial support and to try to swing a few senatorial votes. Liberals and conservatives also predict that Republican senators will follow Bush’s lead by calling for so-called cloture votes — essentially ending the debate — on the nominees who have been blocked from the bench so far. Brown, nominated to the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit– often considered a stepping stone to the U.S. Supreme Court — will likely be front and center in the debate, pundits say. “Republicans want to debate the issue of judgeships throughout the fall, in order to score points, and I certainly see cloture votes on Janice Rogers Brown,” says Nan Aron, president of the liberal, Washington-based Alliance for Justice. “My impression is that the Republicans will want to make the very baseless charge that Democrats are anti-black” and “seize the opportunity to galvanize their right-wing base.” Kay Daly, spokeswoman for the conservative, Washington-based Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, agrees that Brown — the 55-year-old daughter of Alabama sharecroppers — will be one of the “central figures” in the Senate wars. “She has an extraordinarily compelling story,” Daly says. “And there have been some truly vicious attacks on her, below-the-belt attacks.” Daly, a widely quoted conservative activist, says she had no idea when Brown’s nomination might be called to a vote. But when it is, she says, “we’re going to do everything we can to get her record out there and combat anything the left throws at her.” The attacks on Brown and other judicial nominees have already begun. In late August, People for the American Way sent a 16-page e-mail to media around the country saying they expected Republicans to “turn up the volume” this month on allegations that Senate Democrats are obstructing Bush’s judicial nominees. “It is the president’s own fault, not Democratic ‘obstructionism,’” wrote PFAW President Ralph Neas, “when he nominates someone (William Pryor) whose legal views and record are so disturbing that a leading newspaper is prompted to call the nominee a ‘right-wing zealot [who] is unfit to judge.’ It is not ‘obstructionism’ for Democratic senators to refuse to confirm a nominee (Janice Rogers Brown) so ideologically extreme that she has accused senior citizens on Social Security of ‘cannibalizing’ their grandchildren’s future.” An appendix to the document lists reasons why the average American should oppose the nomination of 10 judges, including Brown. The PFAW’s Mincberg added in a telephone conversation that he believes Brown would be the Clarence Thomas of the D.C. Circuit and “one of the more dangerous of the Bush nominees.” Aron, of the Alliance for Justice, doesn’t go that far, but contends that Brown’s record is one of “hostility to worker’s rights, women’s rights, civil rights and environmental protections.” “We will continue to wage an aggressive campaign to prevent the confirmation of extremist judges throughout the fall,” Aron says, “and we’ll do whatever it takes to keep individuals such as Janice Rogers Brown and others from being confirmed by the Senate.” Daly, of the Coalition for a Fair Judiciary, says she’s not surprised by her opponents’ reaction to Brown. “They just seem to object that she hasn’t toed the partisan line,” she says. “Instead, what they seem to be baffled by is that she has applied the law as she’s found it. She’s a strict constructionist.” Daly says that Bush and Cheney have talked about judges at every campaign stop so far, with both parties assuming that the winner of the presidential race could end up appointing two to four new justices to the Supreme Court. And there’s a strong belief on both sides that Brown’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit is Bush’s way of priming her for the high court. So while Brown’s nomination hasn’t been big news for months, that could change abruptly in the weeks ahead. “I think on both sides you are going to see television ads, and the rhetoric is going to start getting louder and louder,” Daly says. “And it’s clear that Janice Rogers Brown is part of that mix.”

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