Published October 09, 2005
WASHINGTON – As doubts grow about her abortion views, Harriet Miers (search) will face vigorous questioning on privacy rights and her qualifications for the Supreme Court, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said Sunday.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said President Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor must show she can handle complicated legal issues and has not cut deals with the White House to overturn Roe v. Wade (search).
Miers' nomination has caused division among conservatives, and a leader of the right said he will not be satisfied until it is clear whether Miers, a longtime Bush confidante who has never been a judge, would overturn the 1973 landmark abortion ruling.
"You can be an evangelical and you can be self-described pro-life. But it doesn't tell us what she will do about a decision like Roe that has been set in stone now for over 30 years. And that's the rub," said Gary Bauer, president of American Values.
Specter, noting that a justice has lifetime tenure, said, "If there are back room assurances and if there are back room deals and if there is something which bears upon a precondition as to how a nominee is going to vote, I think that's a matter that ought to be known."
Specter and the committee's top Democrat, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, are considering having Focus on the Family founder James Dobson testify at Miers' confirmation hearings. Dobson has said he is confident Miers opposes abortion, based on private assurances from the White House.
Disputing that, Leahy said Miers assured him that she had not made any promises on how she would vote on Roe.
"If assurances were given of how any nominee — whether this nominee or anybody else — and somebody gives assurances how they're going to vote in an upcoming case, I would vote against that person," said Leahy, who appeared with Specter on ABC's "This Week."
In recent days, many conservatives have expressed outrage that Bush did not choose a nominee with a proven judicial track record and it was risky putting Miers on the court because she was a blank slate on issues such as abortion and the death penalty. Some activists have said she should withdraw her nomination.
Bauer suggested that conservatives will not support Miers unless they have assurances that she would oppose Roe.
"The whole strategy here is the so-called stealth strategy," he said. "And at the end of the day, the only ones who get fooled by it are conservatives."
Commentator Pat Buchanan, a former presidential candidate, contended that Miers' qualifications were "utterly nonexistent." He criticized Bush for passing over a half-dozen conservatives for a nominee who has never ruled on important decisions or expressed interest in constitutional law.
"What we've heard here, is 'Trust, believe.' Why should we take this risk?" Buchanan said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Defending Miers, Texas Supreme Court Judge Nathan Hecht (search) said Miers was going to overcome the criticism and would not step aside. He said the former corporate lawyer was an abortion opponent, but said that does not mean she would vote to overturn Roe.
"Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things. Judges do it all the time," he told "FOX News Sunday."
Specter cautioned against a rush to judgment on Miers, saying she's faced "one of the toughest lynch mobs ever." But Miers will need to be able to justify to senators whether she is qualified in order to be confirmed, he said.
"When you deal in constitutional law, you're dealing in some very esoteric, complicated subjects that require a great deal of background," Specter said. "The jurisprudence is very complicated, and I will be pressing her very hard on these issues."
Specter and Leahy said they will strive to hold confirmation hearings as soon as possible, perhaps before Thanksgiving, but their primary concern was to conduct a thorough investigation.
"The standard is to do it right, not to do it fast," Specter said.
Hoping to ascertain Miers' views, Senate Democrats are pushing the White House to release reams of documents from the time Miers served under Bush as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff and White House counsel.
But Specter said he did not support such a request, agreeing with the White House that the material is covered by executive privilege.
"If somebody is going to function as White House counsel to the president of the United States, that person is going to have to be free to give advice without worrying that someday that advice is going to be scrutinized by some Senate committee," he said.