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Republicans Warming Up to Miers

More Democrats find cause for concern. The turning point for both parties seems to be her answers about abortion in a 1989 survey.

October 19, 2005|Maura Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court nomination of Harriet E. Miers appeared to gain some ground with Republicans and lose some with Democrats on Tuesday after she turned over to senators a 57-page background questionnaire and 12 boxes of supporting documents.

Republicans who had expressed reservations about her nomination focused on one of those pages: a 10-question survey dating to 1989 from Texans United for Life in which she said, as a candidate for the Dallas City Council, that she favored outlawing abortion except to save the life of a mother.

"It will be a positive for her with me and with others who care about the life issue," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who met with Miers for 45 minutes in his office Tuesday. "I think it will be construed favorably among conservatives."

Some Democrats, including California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, described Miers' responses on abortion as cause for concern. Feinstein has previously said she would find it hard to vote for someone who she believed would vote to overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision that established a right to abortion.

"The answers clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade," Feinstein said. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard."

Other Democrats noted that Miers was running for the Dallas City Council at the time and considered her answers those of a politician, not a judge -- a stance echoed by the White House.

"The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political officeholder. And what she was doing in that questionnaire was expressing her views during the course of a campaign," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Democrats were more critical of Miers' answers on a more recent document, the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire she returned Tuesday.

They said her responses to questions about her background and legal experience were inadequate, particularly her two-sentence explanation of her experience handling constitutional issues in her job as White House counsel.

"So far, these answers heighten, rather than lessen, concerns about whether, as a Supreme Court justice, she would be able to maintain independence from this administration and future administrations," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat. "Lack of responsiveness only adds to the burden she will have in the hearings."

The nomination of Miers has put Democrats and Republicans on the same side on some issues. Senators of both parties complain about her lack of judicial experience or evidence of her judicial philosophy, and are calling on her to be more forthcoming.

"She's got a challenge, that's for sure," said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), a Judiciary Committee member who said he was inclined to support Miers. "There are some people in this town that don't think a lawyer who has practiced in Texas for 30 years can handle a job on the Supreme Court -- which I don't agree with -- so, it's going to be tough for her."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who met with Miers on Monday, said the information she had provided had left him unsure of her views on important matters.

"Nobody knows what to think about Harriet Miers' views on issue after issue after issue," Schumer said. "And having met with her for an hour, I'm not very much clearer than before."

The Texans United for Life questionnaire was released to news reporters before the rest of the documents, suggesting supporters of Miers' nomination sought to draw public attention to it.

White House officials have struggled to persuade many of their core supporters, especially social and religious conservatives, to endorse Miers. And a handful of conservative senators have said they are withholding support until they are convinced that Miers will be as reliable a conservative vote on the high court as Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

"The question that lingers out there is, because there isn't a written paper trail, is she someone who is really in the tradition of a Scalia or a Thomas," Thune said. "That is what has conservatives around the country a little perplexed, and I think it is going to take time."

Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) described the Texas document as a "very strong pro-life questionnaire," but said he was still seeking a "comfort level" with her nomination. "It is a piece of evidence, but it is not dispositive one way or another," Allen said.

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