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Last week, conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt offered his thoughts on potential Supreme Court nominees in his online blog. “This is the summer for the knockdown, and that means Judges [J. Michael] Luttig or [Michael] McConnell,” Hewitt wrote, in anticipation of a possible high court vacancy. If it’s McConnell, a Utah federal appeals judge, Hewitt is prepared. On May 12, he registered confirmmcconnell.com. Hewitt says the domain “would make a great blog site to drive traffic to hughhewitt.com.” But Hewitt couldn’t nab every name on his wish list. “I tried to get confirmroberts.com [referring to Judge John Roberts Jr.] and confirmluttig.com,” he says, “but they were already taken.” Those addresses, it turns out, had been scooped up six months earlier by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the liberal advocacy group that played a starring role in derailing Robert Bork’s 1987 bid for a Supreme Court seat. Within two weeks of President George W. Bush’s electoral victory last fall, Brian Komar, then director of strategic affairs with the Leadership Conference, registered more than 20 Web addresses that included the surnames of potential high court nominees. Among those on Komar’s list: Judges Luttig and J. Harvie Wilkinson of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; Judge Roberts of the D.C. Circuit; Judge Edith Jones of the 5th Circuit; Miguel Estrada, a D.C. partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; and Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas. And the Leadership Conference covered its bets. Not only did it register hostile domains like stoproberts.com and opposeluttig.com, but also it beat conservative groups to the punch by registering affirmative addresses like supportluttig.com and confirmhinojosa.com. Komar, who’s since left the Leadership Conference to join former Bill Clinton aide John Podesta’s Center for American Progress, says buying addresses supportive of conservative judges is “a strategic decision about messaging and political communication.” The strategy: “Getting your own message out,” Komar says. “[And] preventing your opponent from getting his message out.” UNPRECEDENTED SCRUTINY Dozens of Supreme Court-related domains have been snapped up by entrepreneurs, political partisans and interest groups in advance of expected battles over nominations to the high court and a potential clash over the elevation of a sitting justice if ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist steps down. It’s been more than a decade since the last Supreme Court confrontation — and whoever is tapped by the Bush administration will endure the kind of relentless online scrutiny that no predecessor has faced. “Given blogs, mailing lists, and e-mails, the antipathy between the left and the right is only going to intensify,” says David O’Brien, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. High-tech online tactics have been trotted out before, although never in relation to a Supreme Court nomination. Even prior to Howard Dean’s Internet-fueled campaign made him the temporary Democratic presidential front-runner, a host of so-called cybersquatters bought up names like gwbush.com (a parody site) and kerryforpresident.com (which provides links for Jewish singles, airline tickets and weight loss). The proliferation of cybersquatting has been driven by the low cost of domain names, which run typically about $30 a year and the undeniable power of the Internet as a medium. (Domain names are registered with the international agency Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.) “This is the first time we’ve had a Supreme Court nomination with the Web in the state of play that it is,” says Nancy Zirkin, deputy director of the Leadership Conference. “Nobody quite knows how it will all play out.” The liberal interest group People for the American Way began purchasing judicial domains as early as 2003. It now owns domains referencing nine potential nominees, including rejectgarza.com, a reference to Judge Emilio Garza of the 5th Circuit, stopolson.com (Theodore Olson, former solicitor general and Bush’s lawyer in Bush v. Gore), stopalito.com (3rd Circuit Judge Samuel Alito Jr.) and stopluttig.com. “The whole Internet piece of grass-roots organizing didn’t really exist back then,” says group spokesman Peter Montgomery, referring to the time of the last Court vacancy. “If there’s a nominee we’re opposed to, we want to be sure to have a site to distribute information about them.” NARAL Pro-Choice America scooped up stopluttig.net, stopgarza.net and stopalito.net — among others — and plans to fire up an opposition Web site as soon as the White House announces any nomination. “We intend to fight on every front to prevent radical Republicans from gaining control of the Supreme Court,” says NARAL spokesman David Seldin, who calls Luttig, Garza and Alito “universally hostile toward individual freedoms like privacy and a woman’s right to choose.” PROFIT MOTIVE Not to be outdone, Republicans have also gone online to brace for battle and, in at least one instance, possibly to search for profits. Last month, Brian Burch, a former communications director of the conservative Thomas More Law Center, registered at least five Internet domain names such as confirmmcconnell.org, confirmmcconnell.net, and the misspelled confirmolsen.com. The 29-year-old Michigan resident, who now runs his own organization, called the Fidelis Center for Law and Justice, is counting on Rehnquist or another justice to soon step down from the Supreme Court, and that the White House will then nominate either Olson or Judge McConnell. The domain names, Burch hopes, will prove valuable in the coming months. Despite his history with Thomas More, a group that touts itself online as “the Christian answer to the A.C.L.U.,” Burch won’t rule out selling the names to those opposed to Olson or McConnell. “I’d be open to it,” he says, though he refuses to name his price. If it’s Rehnquist who resigns this summer, some conservatives have already begun the push for Justices Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas to be named as his replacement. And if they want to promote either of the two at confirmscalia.com or confirmthomas.com, they’ll have to deal with George Dykes of GMD Technologies, an Arlington, Va.-based online technical support company, who staked out those domain names May 13. Dykes declines to say whether he’s looking to sell the names. But is he a supporter of the conservative duo or an opponent? “I think the names speak for themselves,” Dykes says. Of course, as anyone who’s spent much time on the Internet knows, the Web often offers pathways to unexpected places. Until last week, surfers who had the urge to type the names of the nine current Supreme Court justices into their browser in the form of justicerehnquist.com, justiceginsburg.com, or justicekennedy.com were blindly forwarded to an Amazon.com site selling Scalia’s book, “A Matter of Interpretation.” It wasn’t Scalia who hijacked the names of his fellow justices; the links were created by Codias Brown, 26, of St. Paul, Minn. Brown registered the links April 23, but took them down after being contacted by a Legal Times reporter last week. Brown says he didn’t profit from his attempt to drive potential buyers to Scalia’s treatise. “More for me, it’s about philosophy than anything,” says Brown, who calls himself “a staunch originalist” when it comes to Constitutional interpretation. But it’s another question whether the chief justice or the Bill Clinton-appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg would approve of their names being used to promote Scalia’s book. “I would hope Justice Rehnquist would appreciate the cleverness and resourcefulness,” Brown writes in an e-mail interview. “And perhaps Justice Ginsburg would read it.” Hilary Lewis contributed to this article.

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