Women’s group calls for Miers withdrawal

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The nation’s largest conservative women’s group yesterday called for the withdrawal of the Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination as The Washington Times learned that a key promoter of the nomination had suddenly quit the White House lobbying effort.

Leonard A. Leo, who had been on leave from the Federalist Society to be chief conduit between the White House and conservatives, said last night that he has returned to his full-time job as executive vice president of the conservative legal group.

The move, which surprised even Republicans working closely with Mr. Leo, came as the Concerned Women for America called for the nomination to be withdrawn in part because of reports of a 1993 speech in which Miss Miers appeared to agree with some of the grounds for the legal right to abortion.

“We find several aspects troubling, particularly her views on abortion and a woman’s ‘self-determination,’ quotas, feminism and the role of judges as social activists,” said Jan LaRue, CWA’s chief counsel. “We do not believe that our concerns will be satisfied during her hearing.”

Mrs. LaRue’s group, which has about a half-million members and seeks to “bring biblical principles into all levels of public policy,” had taken a “wait-and-see” stance on the nomination, but has become the latest group to join growing opposition to Miss Miers on the right. The coalition, WithdrawMiers.org, was founded Monday by several pro-family groups led by conservative icons Richard Viguerie and Phyllis Schlafly.

But meanwhile, the White House and Republican leadership emissaries are quietly telling conservative interest groups and pundits opposed to the Miers nomination that they are out of step with their rank and file.

Conservative activist Michael D. Brown said internal GOP polling being cited by party and administration emissaries purports to show that “70 percent of self-identified conservative voters have a favorable impression of Harriet Miers.”

The emissaries are warning that ordinary Republicans beyond the Washington Beltway continue to support the nomination because they trust President Bush, even after several weeks of conservative opposition to her, according to several conservative Miers critics who have been courted by the White House.

The administration is “disappointed that conservatives inside the Beltway are fighting among ourselves over this nomination, and it fuels the fires for our enemies, for Democrats,” said Mr. Brown, the former Federal Emergency Management Agency director.

However, conservative opposition to the Miers nomination stiffened on Capitol Hill, in response to a report in The Washington Post yesterday that she argued that “self-determination” should be the guide for resolving issues such as abortion and school prayer.

“The underlying theme in most of these cases is the insistence of more self-determination,” she said in the 1993 speech. “The more I think about these issues, the more self-determination makes the most sense. Legislating religion or morality we gave up a long time ago.”

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the quotations from the speech “are troubling and raise concerns.”

“It raises some questions we have to ask about in the committee hearing,” said Mr. Brownback, who is undecided on the nomination. “It’s something we’re going to need to probe.”

“I think she has a high hill to climb,” Mr. Brownback said. “I think she remains having that hill to climb. I’m not satisfied with the information we’ve received to date.”

In the same speech before a meeting of the Executive Women of Dallas, Miss Miers also said, “The ongoing debate continues surrounding the attempt to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual woman’s right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion.”

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