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Jumping on Scalia's death, Cruz super PAC goes on offense

Justice Scalia’s death left the door wide open for Ted Cruz supporters to go after Donald Trump on issues like abortion and religious freedom.
Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks from the stage at a campaign event on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Feb. 16, 2016. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) walks from the stage at a campaign event on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Feb. 16, 2016.

In the wake of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s sudden death Saturday, which raised the stakes of the 2016 presidential election, a super PAC supporting Ted Cruz is out with two new radio spots in South Carolina. Each is seeking to highlight the Texas senator’s experience in arguing before the high court, while simultaneously targeting his opponent Donald Trump’s mixed record on social issues.

The two ads, both paid for by Courageous Conservatives PAC, come four days before the first-in-the-South GOP primary, a nominating contest known for its powerful evangelical voting bloc and nasty political brawls. Scalia’s death left the door wide open for Cruz supporters to hit Trump in true South Carolina fashion, going straight for the real estate developer’s jugular on issues like abortion and religious freedom.

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“Justice Scalia’s death reminds us the next president will pick as many as four Supreme Court justices and hundreds of other federal judges. Just who would Donald Trump pick?” asks one ad, titled “Donald’s Choice.”

The ad goes on to reference three names Trump has floated as possible replacements for Scalia -- including Alabama’s former Attorney General Bill Pryor, who in 2003 backed a decision to oust Chief Justice Roy Moore from his position for refusing to follow a federal court order that he remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the front of the state's judicial building. The list also includes Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, who authored an opinion striking down an Indiana law that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, and Trump’s older sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who in her first year as an appellate judge for the Third Circuit wrote a decision that overturned a New Jersey law banning late-term abortions.

Trump suggested in an interview Sunday with ABC’s “This Week” that he wasn’t serious about nominating his sister for the Supreme Court. But that didn’t stop Courageous Conservatives PAC from using her as an example of the havoc Trump would wreak on the judiciary if he were elected president.

“Everything is on the line now: our rights, our freedoms, our America. And the courts are the battleground,” the ad states. “So who do you trust? Who do you trust to fill our federal courts? Donald Trump with his New York values? Or Ted Cruz, who won cases before the Supreme Court protecting gun rights, religious freedom and against the World Court?”

Courageous Conservatives’ other radio ad, titled “The Court,” touched on many of the same themes, noting that the next president could end up naming as many as four justices to the Supreme Court -- an apparent reference to Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Anthony Kennedy in addition to Scalia, all of whom were born in the 1930’s.

“First liberal judges banned school prayer. Then they legalized abortion. They forced us to educate illegal aliens. Then they took down the Ten Commandments, and in one week upheld ObamaCare, legalized gay marriage and gave the federal government power over our local zoning. And the left isn’t finished yet!” the ad warns.”The courts are the battleground, and Justice Scalia’s death makes South Carolina’s choice this week even more important.”

Even before Scalia’s death, Cruz, who argued in front of the Supreme Court nine times as Texas’ solicitor general, talked often about the nation’s highest court while on the campaign trail. He proposed judicial retention elections in the wake of the 2015 decision that legalized nationwide marriage equality, and he frequently cites potential judicial appointments as a distinguishing factor between himself and the rest of the GOP field.

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“Many of the worst judicial activists -- Earl Warren, Bill Brennan, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe v. Wade -- every one of those was a Republican appointee. And the reason is too many Republicans don’t care about the court. They’re not willing to spend the political capital to nominate and confirm a proven conservative constitutionalist,” Cruz said Friday at the Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, just hours before Scalia passed away.

“If we end up seeing a President Hillary Clinton or, frankly, a Republican president who hasn’t demonstrated a lifetime commitment to defending the Constitution, I think the odds are unacceptably high we will see our rights torn down for a generation,” he continued. “And I give you my solemn  word: Every justice I put on the court will be a principled constitutionalist who will be faithful to the law and who will not legislate from the bench.”

Trump, for his part, is pushing back against the attacks. In an email to supporters Tuesday -- subject heading: “Donald J. Trump is pro-life” -- the campaign sent out a statement asserting the billionaire's “conservative values.”

“Despite Senator Ted Cruz attempting to smear me and totally lie about my beliefs and positions on almost all of the issues, I am a conservative person and I believe in conservative values,” Trump said in the statement. “Like Ronald Reagan, on many issues, I have evolved. I am pro-life and have been for a long time.”