WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) said Monday she has not told anyone her views on the landmark 1973 ruling that established abortion rights, although she believes the Constitution contains a right to privacy, according to lawmakers who met separately with her.
"She said nobody knows my views on Roe v. Wade (search). Nobody can speak for me on Roe v. Wade," said Sen. Charles Schumer (search), D-N.Y., referring to the case that set a legal precedent that abortion foes have been trying to overturn since it was created.
A subsequent meeting led a politically awkward moment when the White House said the man who will preside over Miers' confirmation hearings, Sen. Arlen Specter (search), had erroneously described comments she made in their private conversation.
Specter told reporters that beyond stating that constitution includes a right to privacy, Miers had voiced support for two privacy-related rulings handed down a generation ago in which the court affirmed a right for couples to use contraceptives.
But former Sen. Dan Coats (search), R-Ind., who is shepherding Miers' nomination, said in a telephone interview that the Pennsylvania Republican was mistaken. "When asked about the Griswold case, Harriet Miers said what she has consistently said all along, and that is ... she is not commenting on specific cases," he said in reference to a 1965 ruling involving the use of contraceptives by married couples.
An aide to Specter, William Reynolds, subsequently issued a statement saying the senator "accepts Ms. Miers statement that he misunderstood what she said." The right to privacy is the constitutional underpinning of the 1973 court's abortion ruling.
Whatever transpired in the session in Specter's office, the episode marked the latest bump in a confirmation campaign that has been anything but smooth.
The abortion issue hangs over Miers' nomination much as it did over the appointment of Chief Justice John Roberts earlier this year. The situations are different however — Roberts replaced the late William Rehnquist, who voted to overturn the 1973 ruling. Miers would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has voted to uphold it.
Additionally, Roberts won a ready embrace from conservatives, given a resume that included stints in three separate Republican administrations as well as two years as a federal appeals court judge.
Not so Miers, who has spent much of her professional life at a Texas law firm, served one term on the Dallas city council, and has little by way of a record to establish her views on abortion, affirmative action and other issues.
While Miers has yet to draw opposition from any Republican senators, many have been reluctant to come to her defense. And with lawmakers just back from a weeklong break, there was no visible evidence that she was gaining ground.
"I don't want to be complicit in another Souter or another Kennedy," said Sen. George Allen, R-Va., adding he wants to satisfy himself about Miers' judicial philosophy before deciding how to vote on her nomination. Justice David Souter and Justice Anthony Kennedy were both appointed by presidents opposed to abortion. But both men have voted to uphold the 1973 abortion ruling that many conservatives view as an example of the court creating a constitutional right that does not exist.