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The Supreme Pre-Battle Boils

By Eamon Javers The fight has already begun in the war over the Supreme Court, even before President Bush picks a nominee to replace Sandra Day O'Connor.

Conservatives are trying to scare Democrats away from choosing former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine to lead their outside Supreme Court team by noting Mitchell's role as chairman of Walt Disney (DIS), parent of ABC News. Mitchell's possible role in the campaign was first reported by BusinessWeek Online (see BW Online, 7/12/05, "George Mitchell: The Dems Supreme Court Man?").

"It's a pretty serious potential conflict," says C. Boyden Gray, head of Committee for Justice, a conservative group involved in the Supreme Court battle. "How could you trust the fairness of ABC?"

DOUBLE STANDARD? Earlier in his career, Gray was White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush. He's now a lawyer at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dor, and a regular commentator on Fox News Channel, but he sees no similarity between his gig and Mitchell's -- he says his exclusive contract calls for only a minimal payment from Fox.

"I don't see what relevance I have to anything," he says. "I'm a private citizen with no fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. If I owned Fox, you might say something, but I'm an occasional talking head."

And as far as Fox goes, Gray adds that the cable network wouldn't get the same treatment in a similar situation: "I don't see that Rupert Murdoch would survive in charge of a campaign to support whoever President Bush nominates," he says. ABC had no comment, and Mitchell couldn't be reached.

Republicans have turned to former actor and Senator Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) to help in the process of managing a nominee's relationships with the Senate. Watch for this battle to escalate fast. Javers is a correspondent in BusinessWeek's Washington bureau

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