The rank hypocrisy of the Judicial Crisis Network

Supreme Court

Citation Audrey Bowler / Media Matters

Judicial Crisis Network, the primary right-wing group involved in supporting or opposing judicial nominees, has released a hypocritical ad that calls for a nomination to be made to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and for the Republican Senate to quickly confirm the nominee. 

In February 2016, following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, JCN launched an ad campaign under the banner “Let the People Decide” that argued that the vacancy’s proximity to the presidential election meant that it should be filled by that election’s winner, rather than by then-President Barack Obama. 

JCN's blatant hypocrisy around when it's proper to fill a SCOTUS vacancy in an election year -- which conveniently shifts based on what is most politically beneficial for Republicans -- comes as prominent conservative media figures and Republican Senators flip their arguments in support of President Donald Trump to fill the vacancy. 

JCN pledged to spend $10 to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, after the group received a $17 million donation from an undisclosed supporter, and also spent $10 million in 2017 on efforts to confirm Justice Neil Gorusch. 

This week, JCN announced a $2.2 million ad buy as “phase one” of its efforts to support the confirmation of a Trump nominee.

The same day, JCN posted an ad to its YouTube channel under the title “Follow Precedent” supporting the quick nomination and confirmation of Trump’s pick. But in 2016, JCN launched a “Let the People Decide” campaign, which called for waiting until the election to move forward on a Supreme Court nomination. 

On February 18, 2016, five days after Scalia died, JCN announced this “seven figure television, radio and digital advertising campaign.” JCN head Carrie Severino issued a press release that said, in part, “In this first phase, we want to thank the U.S. Senators who say that the American people should decide who picks the next Supreme Court justice,” and “Give the people a voice. Let them decide in November what kind of Court they want.”

JCN’s YouTube channel still carries numerous versions of “Let the People Decide” ads, which all argued that because 2016 was an election year, the winner of the election should get to fill the vacancy. 

  • NARRATOR: “It’s we the people. Sometimes the politicians forget that. The Supreme Court has a vacancy, and your vote in November is your only voice. Sen. Ron Johnson agrees. The American people should decide. This isn’t about Republicans or Democrats; it’s about your voice. You choose the next president. The next president chooses the next justice. Call Sen. Ron Johnson. Thank him for letting the people decide.”
  • NARRATOR: “The next Supreme Court justice will serve a lifetime on the bench. Their decisions will impact our nation and our way of life for generations. That’s why Sen. Portman doesn’t support President Obama’s effort to hurry another liberal onto the court. Sen. Portman thinks that during a heated election with harsh rhetoric and America divided, it’s wrong to nominate someone without the American people’s input. Sen. Portman is right. We should let the people decide.” 
  • NARRATOR: “The Supreme Court, the highest in the land. The framers saw it as a vital check on out-of-control and unconstitutional government. Sen. Grassley wants to keep it that way. He’s working to stop President Obama’s plan to take the future of the court out of the people’s hands. It’s time to stand with Sen. Grassley and keep a president in his last days from installing a new liberal majority on the Supreme Court.” 
  • NARRATOR: “They said it would be too hard. A risky gamble. They said he’d have to give in and approve Obama’s liberal Supreme Court nominee. Liberals attacked him over and over. But Sen. Grassley stood strong, protected the Supreme Court during a heated presidential campaign. Sen. Grassley’s been fighting for Iowa’s conservative values for years. This year he led the fight for the rule of law and made us proud. Tell Sen. Grassley: Thank you.”

JCN’s ads are often disreputable and have included debunked smears of judicial nominees the group opposes. During the last Supreme court confirmation fight, JCN devoted significant resources to defending Brett Kavanaugh against reports of sexual misconduct.