"I want to assure you that I was not giving my personal opinion on this question," Cadish said. "Rather, this response was based on my understanding of the state of federal law at the time."
The NRA questioned the sincerity of Cadish's statement.
"While she has more recently tried to backtrack from that statement, her 'new' position is of little comfort to gun owners," NRA executive director Chris Cox wrote to Heller in April.
In the months that followed, the NRA and its affiliated groups spent $98,467 to help Heller win election, including a television ad promising Heller would "oppose any anti-gun nominee to the Supreme Court."
"This election's not about the next four years. It's about the next 40 years. So vote like your freedom depends on it. Because it does," Cox told audiences in that ad.
Similarly, the NRA has helped block Caitlin Halligan's rise from the Manhattan district attorney's office to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a launching pad for several Supreme Court justices. The group pointed to her work on New York's 2001 lawsuit against gun makers and opposition to a 2005 federal law that shielded firearm companies from liability for crimes committed with their wares.
"Given Ms. Halligan's clear opposition to a major federal law that was essential to protecting law-abiding Americans' right to keep and bear arms, as well as an important industry that equips our military and law enforcement personnel, we must respectfully oppose her confirmation," Cox wrote the lawmakers in 2011.
That appeals court seat has remained vacant since 2005, when President George W. Bush nominated and the Senate confirmed John Roberts as chief justice on the Supreme Court.
Last Thursday, Obama renominated both Cadish and Halligan and urged the Senate to vote.
"I am renominating 33 highly qualified candidates for the federal bench, including many who could have and should have been confirmed before the Senate adjourned," Obama said.
Yet there was no signal the NRA would drop its opposition.
The group's deep pockets help bolster allies and punish lawmakers who buck them, on judges or legislation. The group spent at least $24 million in the 2012 elections — $16.8 million through its political action committee and nearly $7.5 million through its affiliated Institute for Legislative Action. Separately, the NRA spent some $4.4 million through July 1 to lobby Congress.
In one case, the group spent about $100,000 — a tremendous sum for a state legislative race — to mount a primary challenge against a Republican Tennessee lawmaker, Debra Maggart, because she wouldn't toe the NRA's line in Nashville.
As the NRA works to put its stamp on another branch of government, its influence could be even more lasting — federal judges are appointed for life and aren't subject to voters in election years.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An occasional look at how special interests exercise behind-the-scenes influence.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.