Advocates Take Supreme Court Fight To Web

The battle to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has yet to begin in the Senate, but advocacy groups started making online preparations as early as November of 2004 by purchasing domain names related to possible nominees.

For instance, domain names such as stopluttig.com, referring to Judge Michael Luttig; stopbrown.com, referring to Judge Janice Rogers Brown; and stopjones.com, referring to Judge Edith Jones, have been purchased by People for the American Way, the liberal group co-founded in 1981 by "All in the Family" creator Norman Lear.

The domain StopRoberts.com, referring to Judge John Roberts--nominated by George W. Bush last Tuesday to replace O'Connor--was purchased by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights on November 12, 2004, just days after President Bush's reelection.

Peter Montgomery, the communications director for the People for the American Way, said that getting an early presence on the Web is important for any political campaign. "We've been preparing for a possible Supreme Court nominee for four or five years," he said. "You can't really do grassroots organizing without [the Web] these days. You can do traditional organizing, but the Internet and the community activists in it are going to be extremely important." Montgomery added that his organization is undecided about whether to oppose Roberts.

Democratic political consultant Michael Bassik adds that many political campaigns are purchasing variations of their candidates' names. "It's common for campaigns to not only purchase up every permutation of their own campaign's name, but also negative URLs as well," said Democratic political consultant Michael Bassik. "That's exactly what George Bush did in 2004. He not only purchased his own positive names, but names that could be used against him."

Bassik said that the cost of purchasing the domains is so low that campaigns place themselves at a disadvantage if they do not do it as early as possible. "It's so cheap and inexpensive to purchase a domain that it's almost a no-brainer for an organization who foresees that it may start up a site," he said.

In addition to purchasing domain names for sites opposing Supreme Court nominees, some progressive groups are also buying domain names for sites supporting the same nominees. The Leadership Conference, which owns StopRoberts.com, also purchased ConfirmRoberts.com.

Bassik said it's possible to run afoul of cybersquatting laws when purchasing domain names that would be used by political opponents, but added that campaigns can reap a PR windfall by purchasing them nonetheless. "You can purchase a domain hoping that your opponent will send a cease and desist letter requiring you to remove your Web site, or that they'll sue you, and the two of those activities wind up being fantastic press stories," he said.

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