Progressives Begin New Push to Elevate Supreme Court as a Campaign Issue

As the political focus on the makeup of the Supreme Court intensifies, national progressive leaders initiated a new effort on Wednesday to try to make the court a driving issue for liberal voters in November.

Known as Supreme Court Voter, the nonprofit advocacy project will start with $2 million in digital advertising in politically competitive states in attempts to mobilize voters around the idea that the long-term direction of the court — and the outcome of its rulings on hot-button policy and cultural issues — will be set for decades in the coming election.

The push comes as President Trump has signaled that he will again make his vow to install conservative justices to lifetime terms on the court a centerpiece of his campaign.

“The future of the Supreme Court is on the line,” conclude the two new advertisements created by the group, both of which center on Mr. Trump’s nomination of what they call “far-right” justices like Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“We can’t afford any more Brett Kavanaughs, or our court will be his court,” a voice intones as an image of Mr. Trump flashes across the screen. The ads will begin running in Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, states that could decide the presidential election and determine control of the Senate.

The voter mobilization effort comes as the court has delivered a series of sharply divided opinions that have stirred a backlash on both the right and the left and put the justices squarely in the public eye only five months before the election. Both Mr. Trump and his presumptive Democratic rival for the presidency, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., have also sought to capitalize on that scrutiny.

The group Demand Justice, created after the 2016 presidential election and the Republican stonewalling of President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, is the chief investor and a main organizing force in the new undertaking. The advisory board consists of representatives of leading progressive groups like the American Federation of Teachers, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Voto Latino, the National Women’s Law Center and Justice Democrats.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, is also promoting the project as a way to counteract the longstanding emphasis conservatives have put on getting favored nominees on to the courts.

“Powerful interests have worked for years, pouring incredible amounts of money into capturing our courts,” she told reporters Wednesday in a conference call. “This is the kind of strategic, sustained campaign that is needed to match the right-wing focus.”

Participants say they are trying to impress upon voters the dominant role that the Supreme Court plays in American life and the potential tipping point for the membership of the court, which they say is now dominated by hard-right conservative ideologues.

“If Trump wins re-election, it will be bad not only for the courts, but for people, because the court will change for decades to essentially be a legislative handmaiden of the right-wing radical movement,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, who will be among the board members. “It is a very dangerous moment.”

Though two recent high-profile Supreme Court rulings on immigration and abortion rights were decided 5 to 4 by the court’s four liberal justices joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., backers of the new effort say those outcomes only underscored the precarious balance. They note that the chief justice has had to maneuver internally to get those results in what some see as an effort to protect the court’s traditional image as apolitical. And they warn that additional conservative Trump nominees in the years ahead could render moot Chief Justice Roberts’s swing-vote status.

“Those cases were decided on a thread,” Ms. Weingarten noted. “All of these cases should have been decided unequivocally.”

Conservatives have long been viewed as more motivated than liberals to base their vote for president on the prospect of future Supreme Court nominees, seeing the court as a last line of defense between their beliefs and the encroachment of progressive policies.

Mr. Trump’s promise to appoint known conservatives to the court — along with the court vacancy held open by Senate Republicans — was considered essential to his ability to maintain conservative and evangelical backing in 2016 despite concerns about his character. Conservative court activists say the new rulings on immigration and abortion, as well as one on gay rights, that they viewed as inappropriate legislating from the bench would resonate with conservative voters come November.

“Any time we see the courts stepping in doing what the Constitution reserved for the legislature, that is the kind of thing that excites the base on the right,” said Carrie Severino, the president of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.

But polling done for the organizers of the Supreme Court Voter project gives them hope that Democrats and independents can be persuaded to consider the court more prominently in making their choices. Organizers said surveys conducted by Hart Research Associates found “overwhelming concern” from progressives and independents about the possibility of Mr. Trump’s naming more justices to the Supreme Court.

“The prospect of him being able to put one or two more justices on the Supreme Court is really a powerful image and scenario as a motivator for people to really care about this election,” said Guy Molyneux, senior vice president at the public opinion firm. He said the research showed that Justice Kavanaugh was particularly “powerful as a symbol for a liberal audience of what is wrong with the court.”

The newest justice figures prominently in both ads. The court effort will also include the training of activists in key states and an online component that will encourage members of the public to submit accounts of the personal effect of decisions by judges nominated by Mr. Trump.

After recent rulings went against him, Mr. Trump promised he would release a new set of prospective Supreme Court choices in September, following his practice of 2016 that was seen as a boon to his campaign.

Asked Tuesday if he would release a similar list of potential picks to the court, Mr. Biden, who has promised to nominate a Black woman, said he was assembling a list of qualified and experienced candidates but he did not intend to name them “until we have gone further down the line.”

Mr. Biden said he was reluctant to follow the president’s example on anything “because he usually does it all wrong.”

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