Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The White House yesterday dismissed early doubts from nearly half the Senate’s Republicans over the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, saying that lawmakers also expressed doubts about Judge John G. Roberts Jr., who was easily confirmed last month as chief justice.

“Even before the hearings that led to confirmation of Chief Justice Roberts, senators were saying they were reserving judgment on how they would vote until they got to know him better at the hearings,” deputy press secretary Dana Perino said.

“Now the same is being said about Harriet Miers, just one week after her nomination, and that should not be surprising nor be cast in a negative light for what is the norm,” she said.

The Washington Times yesterday reported that nearly half of Republican senators have expressed doubt about the nomination of Miss Miers, reflecting concerns held by some conservatives about her murky record.

Many conservatives want President Bush to nominate a strong conservative to shift the court on abortion and other contentious issues.

The White House yesterday responded by saying that senators — Republican and Democrat — normally wait until after the confirmation hearings to make up their minds on how they will vote on particular nominees.

Indeed, most senators waited until after the Roberts hearings to formally announce their positions. But most also signaled their early support in some way.

Sen. John Thune, a freshman Republican from South Dakota, immediately commended Mr. Bush after his July 19 nomination of Justice Roberts.

“Judge Roberts is a distinguished and intelligent judge who will strictly interpret the law,” he said on that same day. “Only two years ago, the Senate confirmed Judge Roberts by unanimous consent and I expect he will be easily confirmed again.”

With the nomination of Miss Miers, however, even Republicans most loyal to Mr. Bush have sounded a markedly different tune.

Mr. Thune, for instance, did not go beyond calling for a “fair up-or-down” vote.

“However, I will reserve judgment on this nominee until the Senate studies her qualifications,” he said before invoking conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. “It has been my expectation that President Bush would nominate someone in the mold of Justices Scalia and Thomas and it is my hope that Harriet Miers will prove to be such a person.”

To date, 27 Republican senators — almost half the party’s caucus — have publicly expressed varyingly strong doubts about Miss Miers.

Another chilly reception came from Sen. Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina Republican, who issued a same-day statement to “commend President Bush for his decision to nominate John Roberts,” but last week said, “I look forward to reviewing Ms. Miers’ qualification” for the high court.

Sen. Sam Brownback, Kansas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said last week that he is willing to vote against the nomination if he is not convinced that she will be reliably conservative on the court.

The White House, however, said Mr. Brownback said much the same thing after the Roberts nomination. Citing a July 21 article from the Wichita Eagle, the White House noted that Mr. Brownback said then that, “I am concerned about the lack of record there, and how he sees the Constitution and how he sees the courts and the society.”

After meeting with Judge Roberts, Mr. Brownback endorsed him on the issue of whether the jurist would follow the law on the bench.

“My review of his many legal writings over the past quarter-century leads me to believe that this is the case,” he said. “I hope that this instinct will be proven correct during the days to come, that Judge Roberts will be confirmed to serve as the first among equals, and that the noble legacy of the justice he once served will be honored.”

After meeting with Miss Miers this week, Mr. Brownback remained unconvinced.

“I still think there is a lot to learn about this nominee,” he said, adding that he is prepared to vote against her.

The White House has worked furiously to build support among its conservative base for the nominee.

Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s chief political strategist, personally called James Dobson, founder of Colorado-based Focus on the Family, to assuage the concerns of the influential social conservative.

Mr. Dobson then endorsed Miss Miers, causing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, to suggest that Mr. Rove or Mr. Dobson might be called before his committee to testify about what they know about Miss Miers.

Ms. Perino said yesterday that no promises have been made on behalf of Miss Miers.

“In none of the outreach calls did anyone offer nor did anyone ask for insight into Harriet Miers’ particular views or how she may vote on a particular case that may come before the court,” she said.

“The calls were about her conservative judicial philosophy, background, experience, temperament, and knowledge of the constitution and constitutional law that she has used every day in her various positions at the White House.”

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