Monday, October 10, 2005

Nearly half of Senate Republicans say they remain unconvinced that Harriet Miers is worthy of being confirmed to the Supreme Court, according to a survey conducted by The Washington Times.

As with the nomination of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the vast majority of senators say they will not announce their final decisions about the nomination until after Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which are expected sometime next month.

What’s troubling for President Bush, however, is that 27 Republican senators — almost half of his party’s members in the chamber — have publicly expressed specific doubts about Miss Miers or said they must withhold any support whatsoever for her nomination until after the hearings.

A typical chilly response to the Miers nomination came from Sen. Elizabeth Dole, the North Carolina Republican who is one of Mr. Bush’s most unwavering supporters.

After Chief Justice Roberts was nominated to lead the court, Mrs. Dole issued a statement to “commend President Bush for his decision to nominate John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States.”

Not so with Miss Miers.

“As the nomination process moves ahead, I look forward to reviewing Ms. Miers’ qualification and her views on the proper role of the judiciary,” Mrs. Dole said. “I am hopeful that the confirmation process will be both fair and civil.”

Other Republicans have been even more openly skeptical of the nomination.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week that he is perfectly willing to vote against the nomination if he is not convinced that she will be reliably conservative on the high court. That view has been echoed by his fellow committee member Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.

If Mr. Brownback and Mr. Coburn joined all Democrats on the committee in opposing Miss Miers, her nomination would fail in committee. However, because it is a nomination for the Supreme Court, it would still go to Senate floor for a vote by the entire chamber — albeit with a negative committee recommendation.

The fate of the Miers nomination before the full Senate is similarly murky because Republicans outside the Judiciary Committee also have expressed doubts.

Sen. George Allen, a Virginia Republican who previously has been strongly supportive of Mr. Bush’s judicial nominees, said he’s not sure about this one. The best thing Miss Miers’ has going for her confirmation, he said last week, is Mr. Bush’s record of picking solid conservatives for the bench.

Sen. John Thune, a freshman from South Dakota, said he needs to be convinced, and Sen. Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, has been among the most skeptical, saying, “There are a lot more people — men, women and minorities — that are more qualified in my opinion by their experience than [Miss Miers] is.”

White House officials and their surrogates have been working diligently to build support among conservatives for their nominee. Some conservatives close to the White House have tried assuring others that Miss Miers would end federal abortion rights if given the chance.

James Dobson — founder of Colorado-based Focus on the Family and an influential social conservative — endorsed Miss Miers after a conversation with Bush political strategist Karl Rove. Such conversations have raised concerns that the White House is making assurances as to how Miss Miers would rule on certain cases — a situation that many think would compromise her independence if she was confirmed to the court.

“If anybody … wants to be on the Supreme Court or any court and are going to get that appointment based on assurances of how he or she would vote, they’re not qualified to be on that court,” said Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary panel.

On ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, was asked whether Mr. Rove or Mr. Dobson should be called as a witness during the Miers hearings.

“If Pat Leahy doesn’t call him, Arlen Specter may,” Mr. Specter said. “I want to know what all the facts are. I’m very fact-oriented, and if Dr. Dobson knows something that he shouldn’t know or something that I ought to know, I’m going to find out.”

Mr. Specter, who defended Justice Clarence Thomas during the 1991 confirmation hearings that the nominee called a “high-tech lynching,” defended Miss Miers against conservative skeptics.

“What you’ve got here on Harriet Miers is not a rush to judgment; it’s a stampede to judgment,” said Mr. Specter, who has been criticized by fellow Republicans for his liberal views on abortion and other issues. “She’s faced tough — one of the toughest lynch mobs ever assembled in Washington, D.C. — and we really assemble some tough lynch mobs.”

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