WASHINGTON – Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) pledged unflagging opposition to abortion as a candidate for the Dallas City Council in 1989, according to documents released Tuesday. She backed a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure in most cases and promised to appear at "pro-life rallies and special events."
Asked in a Texans United for Life (search) questionnaire whether she would support legislation restricting abortions if the Supreme Court allowed it, Miers indicated she would. Her reply was the same when asked, "Will you oppose the use of city funds or facilities" to promote abortions?
Supporters of Miers' nomination said they hoped the single sheet of paper — delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee (search) as part of a shipment of 12 boxes of documents — would help reassure rebellious conservatives that she would not disappoint them if she took a seat on the high court.
President Bush (search) knew of the views she had held before he picked her for the court, spokesman Scott McClellan said at the White House. But he said the president "did not discuss with her or anyone else whether or not those were still her views."
One Democratic supporter of abortion rights responded warily. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. "It will be my intention to question her very carefully about these issues."
Miers also returned a lengthy questionnaire to the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday in which she wrote that the "role of the judiciary in our system of government is limited. ... And of course, parties should not be able to establish social policy through court action, having failed to persuade the legislative branch or the executive branch of the wisdom and correctness of their preferred course.
"Courts are to be arbiters of disputes, not policymakers."
Bush nominated Miers three weeks ago to succeed retiring Sandra Day O'Connor (search), the justice who has cast the pivotal vote in a string of 5-4 rulings in recent years that sustained abortion rights, upheld affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty. Many Republicans had hoped Bush would pick a prominent conservative with a long record on abortion and other issues rather than a 60-year-old White House counsel whose private law practice consisted almost entirely of representing corporate clients.
As a result, the appointment has created a political landscape unlike any other in the five years of the Bush administration — tepid support at best from conservatives unhappy over a judicial nominee, with Democrats generally content to remain outside the fray rather than interfere in a remarkable round of GOP infighting.
There were some indications during the day that Miers might be gaining ground among Senate Republicans, none of whom has yet to announce plans to oppose confirmation.
Sen. Trent Lott, who spoke dismissively of Miers shortly after her appointment, told reporters it was "more than likely at some point I'll be satisfied. But I'm not there yet." The Mississippi Republican said his concern resulted from dealings he had with Miers over the summer that led him to question her competence. He declined to elaborate.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told reporters he thought Miers was making headway among conservatives.
"Grassroots Republicans that I talk to in Alabama feel positive about her," he told reporters. "I might have liked a different type of nominee but that's the president's. He gets to pick that."
At the same time, other Republicans remained decidedly unexcited. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who met with Miers on Tuesday, said afterward he would have preferred "someone who has stood in there and weathered the attacks and criticism from the left on some of these issues."
While the Texans United for Life questionnaire was unsigned and undated, senior Justice Department officials who briefed reporters said Miers herself had included it in material to be turned over to the Judiciary Committee.
The document consisted of 10 questions and asked candidates to indicate agreement or disagreement based on their views.
In each case, Miers indicated she supported the positions taken by the group. That included support of Texas' ratification of any constitutional amendment that cleared Congress banning abortions except where necessary to prevent the death of the mother and support for legislation "if the Supreme Court returns to the states the right to restrict abortion."
Miers also said she would oppose the use of public money for abortion except when necessary to prevent the death of the mother.
In a separate questionnaire completed for the Dallas Eagle Forum in 1989, Miers indicated she would not support any city ordinance requiring property owners and businesses to "provide accommodations to persons with AIDS ... and those perceived to have AIDS."
The committee's chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., told reporters he intended to use the public hearings to review a disagreement that developed after a private meeting he and Miers had on Monday.
Talking with reporters Monday, he said she had expressed support for a pair of court rulings that established the right of married and unmarried couples to use contraceptives. Both cases involve a right to privacy, which is viewed as the foundation for the right to abortion established in a 1973 court ruling.
Not long after Specter spoke, the White House said he was mistaken, and Miers called to tell him so. Former Sen. Dan Coats, who is shepherding her nomination, said in an interview that the senator was wrong and that Miers had told him that while she believes there is a right to privacy in the Constitution, she was "not commenting on specific cases." An aide to Specter issued a statement saying the senator "accepts Ms. Miers' statement that he misunderstood what she said."
Accepts but does not necessarily agree with it, Specter himself said on Tuesday.
"I think the fair thing to do is what I have done and that is to accept her statement," he said.