Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter's decision to retire and return to his farm in New Hampshire has really got the Religious Right's knickers in knots – but also has given movement leaders an opportunity.

President Barack Obama is expected to name Souter's replacement soon, and chances are the Religious Right isn't going to like that person's record.

What to do?

Answer: Go negative.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that conservative groups are already mapping their plans of attack. Leading far-right organizations have been researching the records of several possible nominees and are ready to pounce if one of them is named. If these outfits are lucky, they can make a tidy sum in the process.

"If President Obama nominates Judge Diane P. Wood to the Supreme Court, conservatives plan to attack her as an 'outspoken' supporter of 'abortion, including partial-birth abortion,'" reported The Times. "If he nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor, they plan to accuse her of being 'willing to expand constitutional rights beyond the text of the Constitution.' And if he nominates Kathleen M. Sullivan, a law professor at Stanford, they plan to denounce her as a 'prominent supporter of homosexual marriage.'"

The Times obtained a series of memos summarizing the far right's research on possible nominees and outlining lines of attack. The newspaper notes that the Religious Right is using separation of church and state as one yardstick to measure possible nominees.

A memo on Judge Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blasts her for ruling in favor of a university that denied a student-run religious group official status because it would not admit gay students. She also sided with taxpayers who sought the right to sue over state legislative prayers.

By contrast, Judge Kim M. Wardlaw of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wins a few points with this crowd for supporting city display of a Ten Commandments monument.

The far right realizes that with 59 Democrats in the Senate, the chances of derailing Obama's nominee are slim – but there's always a silver lining! Right-wing groups can use the judicial battle to raise money and enlist more shock troops.

"It's an immense opportunity to build the conservative movement and identify the troops out there," Richard A. Viguerie, a longtime conservative fund-raiser, remarked. "It's a massive teaching moment for America. We've got the packages written. We're waiting right now to put a name in."

Viguerie has been a unpleasant bruise on the body politic for a long time. He helped form and fund the Moral Majority back in the late 1970s. Over the years, he has specialized in filling the coffers of various extreme organizations. Some of them had a real grassroots presence, but others I'm sure were just Astroturf.

It's nice to know Viguerie has his fund-raising letters already written and just needs a name to plug in. Why, it's as if actual facts barely matter! All you need to do is turn on the hate machine.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Obama could throw the far right a curve and name someone who has not appeared on any of the short lists. Not to worry. I've followed the Religious Right for more than two decades now and know that the one thing the movement's leaders do best is fling mud. They'll find a reason to assail whomever Obama picks.

The sad thing is, it's all unnecessary. We already know how this will end. Most likely, Obama's court nominee will win Senate approval. Viguerie and company are determined to make the nation endure a summer of slime attacks to get there.

I have to wonder if Viguerie and his ilk even care that Obama is likely to emerge victorious. After all, they get paid either way.