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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Court Nominee Backed Anti-Abortion Amendment in 1989 - New York Times

Court Nominee Backed Anti-Abortion Amendment in 1989 - New York TimesOctober 18, 2005
Court Nominee Backed Anti-Abortion Amendment in 1989

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18 - President Bush's Supreme Court nominee, Harriet E. Miers, pledged support in 1989 for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortions except when necessary to save the life of the woman.

Ms. Miers expressed her support for such an amendment in an April 1989 survey sent out by Texans United for Life. The disclosure virtually guarantees that Ms. Miers will be questioned heavily during hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee on abortion rights and whether she can separate her personal views from legal issues.

As a candidate for a seat on the Dallas City Council, Ms. Miers answered "yes" to the following question: "If Congress passes a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion except when it was necessary to prevent the death of the mother, would you actively support its ratification by the Texas Legislature?"

Ms. Miers answered "yes" to all the organization's questions, including whether she would oppose the use of public money for abortion and whether she would use her influence to keep "pro-abortion" people off city health boards and commissions.

Ms. Miers also said she would refuse the endorsement of any organization that supported "abortion on demand," would use her influence as an elected official "to promote the pro-life cause," and would participate "in pro-life rallies and special events."

But Ms. Miers also took a position that upset some conservatives during the 1989 campaign, saying that she supported equal civil rights for gay men and lesbians, although she did not support repealing a local ban on sodomy.

A copy of the 1989 survey accompanied the 57-page questionnaire that Ms. Miers filled out for the Senate. The Senate questionnaire, made public this morning, includes material ranging from routine biographical data to Ms. Miers's views on "judicial activism."

But Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Judiciary Committee, was not impressed. "The questionnaire was bipartisan and reasonable, but the answers are disappointing, spare and unilluminating," he said.

Abortion seems likely to be the most contentious issue in the unfolding debate over whether Ms. Miers should be confirmed, especially since she would succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has voted to uphold abortion rights.

Conservatives had hoped that President Bush would nominate an unmistakable, unambiguous conservative, preferably a high-profile jurist or legal scholar, to fill Justice O'Connor's seat, and some have expressed dismay that Ms. Miers, who has never been a judge, has no record of opinions to bolster her beliefs.

When Mr. Bush said recently that Ms. Miers's Christian faith was pertinent to the overall discussion of her fitness to serve on the Supreme Court, his words were widely seen as a signal to conservatives that she would indeed be an anti-abortion justice. But the continuing unease of some conservatives, coupled with the reaction of some politicians who are liberal or middle of the road, raises the fear for Ms. Miers and her backers that she may have opposition across the political spectrum, albeit for different reasons.

But Ms. Miers has her strong supporters as well. Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Texas Republicans, spoke on her behalf today in an appearance with a former Texas Supreme Court justice, Raul Gonzalez.

Mr. Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a former judge, called the nominee "a consummate professional" who has handled many cases like those that reach the United States Supreme Court. Ms. Hutchison said Ms. Miers was "eminently qualified" and would make "a great justice." And Judge Gonzalez said she was qualified "by any objective criteria - integrity, competence, real-world experience, intellect."

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and a member of the Judiciary Committee, is a strong supporter of abortion rights and pressed Judge John G. Roberts Jr., Mr. Bush's nominee for chief justice of the United States, on the issue. In the end, she voted against Judge Roberts, who was nonetheless confirmed by the full Senate.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, supports the right to abortion. But the other nine Republicans on the committee include some of the Senate's most ardent abortion foes, like Senators Sam Brownback of Kansas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The eight Democrats on the committee generally support abortion rights.

Now that the issue of abortion has become central to Ms. Miers's candidacy, she is sure to undergo scrutiny from liberals as well as conservatives, both politicians and non-politicians. The release of the 1989 questionnaire brought a quick reaction from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, whose interim president, Karen Pearl, said the document "raises grave concerns for women's health, rights and safety in this country."

But the chief White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said that "Harriet Miers, just like Chief Justice Roberts, recognizes that personal views and ideology and religion have no role to play when it comes to making decisions on the bench."

"The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political officeholder," Mr. McClellan said of the 1989 document. "What she was doing in that questionnaire was expressing her views during the course of a campaign. The role of a judge is to apply the law in a fair and open-minded way."

Another subject sure to be debated at her confirmation hearings, which are tentatively set for early November, is that of "judicial activism," a term often used by conservatives to describe what they see as "legislating from the bench." Ms. Miers's comments on judicial activism are sure to be well received by conservatives.

"The role of the judiciary in our system of government is limited," she wrote in the Senate questionnaire. "While its role and its independence are essential to the proper functioning of our tripartite system of government, the courts cannot be the solution to society's ills, and the independence of the courts provides no license for them to be free-wheeling."

Like Judge Roberts, Ms. Miers expressed an appreciation of stability and predictability in the law. "Humility and self-restraint require the judiciary to adhere to its limited role and recognize that where applicable precedent exists, courts are not free to ignore it," she wrote.

On the other hand, she said, there are instances in which revisiting precedent is not only right but necessary. Again like Judge Roberts, she cited the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision, in which the Supreme Court unanimously declared public school segregation unconstitutional - and in so doing swept aside a late-19th Century ruling that had upheld "separate but equal" schools.


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