Thursday, October 6, 2005

Republican activists yesterday lashed out at President Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, excoriating White House emissaries at two “off-the-record” gatherings of Washington conservatives.

“I can’t stomach another ‘trust me’ from a Republican” in the Oval Office, Free Congress Foundation President Paul M. Weyrich told Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman at Mr. Weyrich’s regular Wednesday conservative coalition luncheon.

Mr. Mehlman made an extensive pitch on behalf of Miss Miers at the Weyrich weekly luncheon, which brings together conservative activists and lawmakers.

Former Republican National Chairman Ed Gillespie ran into a similar storm of criticism at the weekly morning meeting of about 200 conservative interest-group leaders and activists hosted by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

“We’ve been on the wrong side of the question mark with nominees like John Paul Stevens, Anthony Kennedy, David Souter and Sandra Day O’Connor, and asking us to take another question mark in the person of Harriet Miers is asking us to take a lot,” Connie Mackey, vice president of the Family Research Council, told Mr. Gillespie.

“And [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid recommending her and recommending the strategy that the president name someone who has never been a judge before — that was a direct slap in the face to conservatives,” she told him.

Both Mr. Mehlman and Mr. Gillespie had been dispatched to the meetings by the White House in an effort to quell conservative objections to the president’s nomination of Miss Miers, a Texas lawyer and Bush aide, to the Supreme Court.

White House officials yesterday declined to comment on the criticism raised at the meetings.

At both meetings, conservatives said they had mobilized grass-roots support and raised money to wage advertising campaigns on behalf of a prominent nominee with a documented strict-constructionist record. Instead, they complained, they got Miss Miers, with no such record and a “trust me” from Mr. Bush.

Participants at both the Norquist and Weyrich meetings complained that, in naming Miss Miers, an ex-Democrat who once headed the Texas Bar Association, Mr. Bush bypassed a score of highly qualified and respected jurists with clearly established conservative records. Activists accused the president of running from a fight that conservatives have waited decades to wage — and in the process, show Americans the importance of judicial restraint and courts that respect the rule of law.

“This was a teaching moment, a chance for the debate on the role of the court and precisely how we want to bring it back to respecting the Constitution,” Christopher C. Horner, an attorney with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, told Mr. Gillespie. “Instead, the president punted, on one issue where we least want to guess [about the outcome].”

At one point, Mr. Gillespie said criticism of Miss Miers was “sexist,” but that remark only angered conservatives, who accused Mr. Gillespie of using a false argument against critics, because no one at either meeting addressed Miss Miers’ sex as an issue.

“Conservatives have waited nearly 20 years to undo the damage done to [rejected 1987 Supreme Court nominee] Robert Bork and the politicizing of the confirmation process by the Democrats,” said lobbyist Richard Lessner. “Real people have paid a real price in this fight, from Judge Bork to Clarence Thomas, Miguel Estrada, Janice Rogers Brown and others. Their sacrifices now have been rendered meaningless.

“By selecting a stealth candidate, an unknown quantity, President Bush has sought to avoid a confirmation fight that was vitally important to preserving our constitutional system,” Mr. Lessner told Mr. Gillespie.

Mr. Weyrich said he has been through “five trust me’s” beginning with President Nixon, recalling how, in 1990, a White House emissary had assured him conservatives would “absolutely love” David H. Souter, the senior President Bush’s nominee for the Supreme Court. Justice Souter is now a reliably liberal vote on most of the court’s cases.

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