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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Miers Hits Another Snag as Senators Fault Her Questionnaire - New York Times

Miers Hits Another Snag as Senators Fault Her Questionnaire - New York TimesOctober 19, 2005
Miers Hits Another Snag as Senators Fault Her Questionnaire

WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 - The contentious nomination of Harriet E. Miers to the Supreme Court hit another snag this afternoon when both the Republican chairman and ranking Democrat of the Senate Judiciary Committee said her responses to senators' questions had thus far been unsatisfactory.

The committee chairman, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said Ms. Miers should redo a questionnaire prepared by a bipartisan Senate panel because her initial responses had been insufficient on "many, many of the items."

The ranking Democrat, Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, agreed that Ms. Miers's effort on the questionnaire had been "inadequate," adding that some of his Senate colleagues had found her responses "ranged from incomplete to insulting."

But both Mr. Specter and Mr. Leahy rejected any suggestion that the Miers nomination was doomed.

"Give this nominee a chance to be heard," said Mr. Specter, who announced that her confirmation hearings would begin before his committee on Nov. 7, as expected.

Mr. Leahy said he had asked Democratic colleagues to "keep your powder dry, wait till we've had the hearing, and then make up your mind."

But this afternoon's announcement by Senators Specter and Leahy, who by all appearances have an excellent working and personal relationship and praised each other today, is bound to be unsettling for President Bush, who has repeatedly pronounced Ms. Miers, his White House counsel, an outstanding lawyer and a person who deserves to be on the Supreme Court.

Ms. Miers's questionnaire responses were made public on Tuesday. They created a considerable stir, largely because she disclosed that in 1989, while running for the Dallas City Council, she expressed support for a constitutional ban on abortion except to protect the life of the pregnant woman.

The concerns expressed today by Senators Specter and Leahy were more general. For instance, Mr. Specter said Ms. Miers had offered only "a skimpy little group" of cases she had worked on.

Mr. Leahy added: "We don't have enough in this questionnaire, the answers so far, to go forward. That's why we have to have more."

Ms. Miers has never been a judge. In the absence of a judicial "paper trail," some senators have asked the White House to provide more information and documents related to her work there - requests that President Bush has so far resisted on grounds of executive privilege.

Mr. Specter was asked how Mr. Miers's initial responses to questions could have been so sparse, given the White House's comments that she has been actively involved in previous judicial nominations.

"I really can't explain it," replied Mr. Specter, who said earlier that perhaps Ms. Miers needed "a crash course in constitutional law."

The Judiciary Committee has 10 Republicans and 8 Democrats. One Democrat, Charles E. Schumer of New York, said on Tuesday that he was disappointed with Ms. Miers's responses.

Mr. Leahy said today that the questionnaire sent to Ms. Miers was a bipartisan work. "I don't know of anybody who would tell you in that committee that they were satisfied with the responses," he said.

In those responses, Ms. Miers emphasized that courts should not make "social policy," emphasizing the limits of judicial power and placing less emphasis on respect for precedents.

"Parties should not be able to establish social policy through court action, having failed to persuade the legislative branch or the executive branch of the wisdom of their preferred course," she wrote in an echo of conservative arguments against decisions like the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing abortion rights.

That answer might ease some of the worries on the political right, where much of the criticism of her nomination has emanated, but the lackluster reception for her questionnaire responses over all will probably not quell concerns among either Republicans or Democrats over her qualifications for a lifetime appointment to the most powerful court in the land.

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