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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bush Fends Off Sharp Criticism of Court Choice - New York Times

Bush Fends Off Sharp Criticism of Court Choice - New York TimesOctober 5, 2005
Bush Fends Off Sharp Criticism of Court Choice

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4 - President Bush on Tuesday defended his latest choice for the Supreme Court, Harriet E. Miers, from complaints on the right that she was not conservative enough and from accusations on the left that she was a White House crony unqualified for the job.

The president also said he did not recall ever talking to Ms. Miers, whom he has known for more than a decade, about her personal views on abortion, and he reiterated that he was a "pro-life president" who nonetheless had no litmus test on the issue for judicial candidates.

He insisted that Congress and the American public would come to be impressed with Ms. Miers, the White House counsel and a former president of the State Bar of Texas who was once Mr. Bush's personal lawyer.

"I can understand people not, you know, knowing Harriet," the president said in a 55-minute news conference in the Rose Garden at the White House, designed in large part to bolster Ms. Miers's position as many conservatives remained agitated about the choice the day after she was selected. "She hasn't been, you know, one of those publicity hounds. She's been somebody who just quietly does her job."

The president, who appeared at ease during the news conference but intent on pressing his case for Ms. Miers's nomination, added: "But when she does it, she performs, see. She's not a person in Texas saying: 'Look at me. Look at how stellar I have been.' She just did it, and quietly, and quietly established an incredibly strong record."

But some of the most important parts of that record might remain largely off-limits, as President Bush indicated that he would probably reject any requests for documents relating to her work as White House counsel. [Page A21.]

In an effort to calm conservatives, Mr. Bush said three times that Ms. Miers would not change her philosophy, assuming she is confirmed, over decades on the court.

"I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today," Mr. Bush said.

The president appeared to be alluding to Justice David H. Souter, who was nominated by his father, the first President Bush, and who has disappointed Republicans looking for a reliable conservative on the court. Later, when asked if he thought the appointment of Justice Souter was a mistake, Mr. Bush chuckled and replied, "You're trying to get me in trouble with my father."

On Capitol Hill, Ms. Miers again met with senators crucial to her confirmation. Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican on the Judiciary Committee and a leading opponent of abortion rights, said in an interview that he might vote against confirming Ms. Miers, depending on what she says in her hearings.

"There is a lot of skepticism around about her," Mr. Brownback said, recalling the conservative disillusionment with Justice Souter, who ruled in favor of abortion rights and supported other liberal decisions. "If it really appears as if and operates as if she is a Souter type of nominee, I can see a scenario that I would vote against her on the committee."

Another Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, said Ms. Miers had more convincing to do with some of the conservative Republicans than she did with the panel's Democrats.

Still, Mr. Hatch, who met with Ms. Miers on Tuesday, said he would support her and expected the other Republicans to ultimately do the same. "A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don't know her as I do," he said, adding that he had worked with her during her time in the White House. He said he would stake his reputation that "she is going to basically do what the president thinks she should, and that is be a strict constructionist."

Staff members of the Senate Republican leadership were already trying to reassure conservative advocacy groups at a meeting on Capitol Hill on Monday night. They brought in Leonard Leo, a conservative lawyer close to the White House and the chairman of Catholic outreach for the Republican Party, to promote Ms. Miers's virtues, people who attended the meeting said.

Mr. Leo emphasized Ms. Miers's efforts to overturn the American Bar Association's support for abortion rights and her role in the selection process for the president's appeals court nominees, they said.

But many left unconvinced. "I think what they have given us is a big question mark," said Connie Mackey, the vice president for government affairs of the Family Research Council.

Many conservatives also reacted with alarm Tuesday to news reports that as a City Council candidate in Dallas in 1989, Ms. Miers told a gay advocacy group that she supported equal civil rights for gay men and lesbians, though she did not support the repeal of a local ban on sodomy.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement that he worried Ms. Miers "was helping to legitimize the drive of homosexual organizations for power and influence over our public policies."

Democrats, meanwhile, gave their own signs of indecision about the nomination. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, stepped back from the effusive praise of Ms. Miers he offered Monday, saying that even though he had recommended her to the president, he was now reserving judgment.

"Let me make clear that I have not endorsed this nomination," Mr. Reid said. "It would be entirely premature of me to do so."

Mr. Reid said Ms. Miers needed to show that she would rule independently despite her long ties to Mr. Bush. "She needs to demonstrate to the Senate that she can put those close ties aside and, when necessary, stand in judgment of the president who has elevated her to the court," he said.

Mr. Bush's news conference, his eighth full session with reporters since his re-election in November 2004 and his first since May, also touched briefly on Iraq, the budget deficit, Hurricane Katrina, the possibility of a bird flu outbreak in the United States and the investigation into whether Bush administration officials leaked the identity of a C.I.A. operative. Mr. Bush refused to answer two questions about the leak, saying he would not talk about it until the investigation was complete.

Questions about Ms. Miers dominated the news conference, and Mr. Bush said he had paid heed to Congress in making his selection. "I actually listen to the senators when they bring forth ideas, and they brought forth some really interesting ideas during the course of our conversations," Mr. Bush said.

One of the most interesting ideas, he said, was a recommendation to reach outside "the judicial monastery." Ms. Miers, who spent decades in corporate law in Texas, has never been a judge. Mr. Bush added that people were "jumping to conclusions" about her.

"I know her," the president said. "I know her heart. I know what she believes."

White House officials said Mr. Bush first thought about Ms. Miers as a possibility for the job two months ago, shortly after he named John G. Roberts Jr. as his choice for the court's first opening.

Ms. Miers had been a leader in the search for a nominee, and Mr. Bush had kept her in mind for the next vacancy. The president discussed the idea with the White House chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., and Mr. Card then directed Ms. Miers's deputy, William K. Kelly, to vet her behind her back.

About two weeks ago, a White House official said, Mr. Card informed Ms. Miers, who had also been a leader in the search to fill the second vacancy, that she was under consideration for the job. Even so, Ms. Miers continued to work on the selection process, including calling senators and asking them for their ideas on a nominee.

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