- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 16, 2005

Several key Democrats said yesterday that President Bush’s strategy of highlighting Harriet Miers’ evangelical Christian beliefs to conservatives makes it more difficult for them to support her nomination to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t think the president did her a favor this last week by bringing up her religion as part of the reason why she should be considered positively as a nominee,” said Senate Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“I believe that’s the first time in history that any president has pointed directly at a nominee’s religion in suggesting that’s what qualifies them to serve on the court,” he said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“It’s going to make for a very difficult line of inquiry at our hearings, but we have to understand what she’s all about — what her values and beliefs are — so we can make an informed judgment,” he said.

Mr. Bush tried to stem mounting criticism of Miss Miers among conservatives last week by emphasizing her evangelical Christianity.

“People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers’ background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. Part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion,” he said Wednesday.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and also a Judiciary Committee member, called the religion references inappropriate and a sign of desperation.

“I call that groping. It sounds like a man who is going down and decides to try to throw something to his supporters,” Mr. Biden said on CBS.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who also sits on the committee, agreed.

“To say that religion becomes a major qualification, I think that is a huge problem,” she said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “I would certainly hope that that does not happen any more than it already has.”

Mrs. Feinstein, who says she’s undecided about the Miers’ nomination, called the treatment of her “really rather tragic.”

“I think the way she’s being beaten up by the far right is very sexist,” she said. “I do not believe they would do that to a man.”

Mr. Durbin’s comments about religion aren’t the first time he’s found himself at the intersection of judiciary politics and religion. In the confirmation process for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Mr. Durbin asked Judge Roberts whether his Catholicism might interfere with his duties as a Supreme Court justice.

Mr. Durbin then described the meeting — and a considerably altered version of the answer Judge Roberts apparently gave — to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who wrote a column about it.

Conservatives accused Mr. Durbin — who opposed Judge Roberts’ confirmation — of holding his religion against him.

In yesterday’s Fox News interview, Chris Wallace asked Mr. Durbin why it isn’t now hypocritical for him to criticize the White House for employing religion.

“The difference, of course, Chris, is, that was a private and personal conversation which I have never disclosed,” Mr. Durbin said.

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