Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Two longtime leaders of the conservative movement yesterday called for the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court.

“We expected President Bush to appoint a woman with the opposite judicial philosophy and paper trail of Ruth Bader Ginsburg — our disappointment is acute,” said Phyllis Schlafly, founder and president of the St. Louis-based Eagle Forum.

Mrs. Schlafly joined pioneering conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie and other, lesser-known leaders on the pro-family right yesterday in announcing the formation of a coalition, WithdrawMiers.org.

They described it as a “multipronged campaign to urge the withdrawal of Harriet Miers’ nomination to the Supreme Court.”

President Bush avoided the Miers nomination issue yesterday, pointedly changing the subject when a reporter asked him to comment on a report in the Saturday editions of The Washington Times about the White House’s contingency plans for withdrawing Miss Miers’ nomination in the face of opposition to her from liberals and conservatives.

Instead, he said Miss Miers is an “extraordinary woman.”

“She was a legal pioneer in Texas,” Mr. Bush said. “She was ranked one of the top 50 women lawyers in the United States on a consistent basis.”

Mr. Viguerie, in his first public statement of opposition to the nomination, said Mr. Bush “has broken his word to his conservative base and has greatly diminished his credibility.”

“If the president does not quickly withdraw the nomination,” Mr. Viguerie said, it will reflect “a shaky will” on his part to engage the Senate and the nation “in one of the most important debates of our lifetime.”

Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Viguerie added their names to a growing list of respected conservatives who have expressed disappointment or outright disapproval of the choice of Miss Miers. None, until now, had called for her withdrawal.

The public statements by Mrs. Schlafly and Mr. Viguerie represent major setbacks to the White House campaign to rally conservative support for Miss Miers — and are considered significant for another reason.

“With Phyllis and Richard going public and [American Conservative Union Chairman] David Keene’s break with Bush on this last week, the door has opened for conservative leaders to say it’s OK to criticize the president,” said Merrill Matthews, an analyst for the Institute for Policy Innovation. “It also opens the door for conservatives to disagree with Bush on other things.”

“The bigger story here is that the conservative movement is showing that it is bigger than this administration,” he said. “The only two religious-conservative groups strongly in favor of Miers are James Dobson’s Focus on the Family and Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. And they have been trying to sell it by saying, ‘We need an evangelical on the court.’ ”

With Mrs. Schlafly, Mr. Viguerie — both of whom are Catholic — and several other pro-family leaders going public, Mr. Matthews, an evangelical, said he thinks “principle is beginning to triumph over politics.”

“I believe conservative opposition is beginning to coalesce around withdrawal,” said Joseph Cella, co-founder of Fidelis, a Catholic advocacy group.

The leaders of the coalition he helped form think “that the best interests of the country and the Supreme Court would be served if Miss Miers withdraws her nomination,” he added.

“Should Miss Miers decide not to withdraw, we respectfully ask President Bush to withdraw her nomination and immediately begin the vetting process of candidates who are stronger alternatives,” Mr. Cella said.

Another member of the new coalition is Ken Connor, current chairman of the Center for a Just Society and former president of the Family Research Council.

“The president promised to nominate jurists in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas,” Mr. Connor said in a statement with the other coalition members. “To date, there is no objective evidence confirming that Ms. Miers holds a judicial philosophy consistent with those two justices.”

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