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Republicans split over new Supreme Court pick

Conservatives on Wednesday pressed their concerns about Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers.
Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers meets with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., in his office Tuesday in Washington. Confirmation hearings for Miers, Bush's White House counsel, could begin as early as Nov. 7.Kevin Wolf / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Conservatives on Wednesday continued to question President Bush’s nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court, causing a rare fracture in the GOP’s attempts to move the federal judiciary to the right.

“There are a lot more people — men, women and minorities — that are more qualified in my opinion by their experience than she is,” said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., formerly the Senate Majority leader.

Lott said it’s not enough for the president to say “trust me” when it comes to the Supreme Court.

“I don’t just automatically salute or take a deep bow anytime a nominee is sent up,” Lott told MSNBC. “I have to find out who these people are, and right now, I’m not satisfied with what I know.”

Other conservatives offered Miers their support.

“President Bush has an excellent record of appointing judges who recognize the proper role of the courts, which is to interpret the law according to its actual text, and not to legislate from the bench,” said David N. O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee. “We believe that Harriet Miers is another nominee who will abide by the text and history of the Constitution.”

Hearing could begin Nov. 7
GOP Sen. John Cornyn, a fellow Texan, a former judge and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also came out for Miers after meeting with her Wednesday morning. Cornyn said he believes her Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing could begin as early as Nov. 7, but he didn’t need to wait that long to support Miers.

“I don’t need to reserve judgment because I know she’s the right person for the job now,” said Cornyn, who has known Miers for 15 years.

But Cornyn acknowledged that Miers faces problems from some conservatives. “The president in a sense has disarmed some of his critics, but also made some of his supporters nervous by this nomination,” Cornyn said.

Conservatives in some cases are expressing outright opposition, some are in wait-and-see mode and others are silent, all bad signs for a Bush administration used to having the full backing of all wings of the GOP when it takes on the Senate’s minority Democrats over judicial selection.

“I’m getting reports on both sides,” said Paul Weyrich, a conservative leader from the Free Congress Foundation. “Some people are quite enthused about her and other people are very upset. The grass-roots are not happy, I can tell you that.”

No word from Miers on abortion
Bush defended the 60-year-old nominee at a Rose Garden news conference Tuesday, repeatedly implying that conservatives should trust his judgment in picking Miers to succeed the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor.

While insisting that he doesn’t recall ever talking to Miers about abortion, he pointedly said, “I know her heart.”

Bush, who emphasized that he’s a proud conservative, said he hoped his supporters were listening. “I’m interested in someone who shares my philosophy and will share it 20 years from now,” he said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Wednesday said the nomination was only two days old and suggested that support for Miers would grow once senators looked “at her record of accomplishment.” He said that while she would answer questions put to her by senators, the White House would not make available “confidential deliberative documents” relating to work she had done for the president.

After a strong push from the president and his White House staff, some conservative groups are coming out in favor of Miers, the White House counsel and longtime Bush friend. “I trust that she will be an excellent addition to the high court and all Americans will be proud of her,” said Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition.

Support from Orrin Hatch
And one of the Senate’s senior conservatives, Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was one of the first senators to announce his support for Miers.

“A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don’t know her as I do,” said Hatch, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “She’s going to basically do what the president thinks she should, and that is be a strict constructionist” when it comes to deciding constitutional issues.

But many Senate conservatives are withholding judgment, and House Republican leaders have said little to nothing about Miers. Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a Judiciary Committee Republican and a possible GOP 2008 candidate, even invoked a favorite target of conservatives when talking about Miers.

“There’s precious little to go on and a deep concern that this would be a Souter-type candidate,” Brownback said, referring to Supreme Court Justice David Souter, a little-known judge nominated for the court by the first President Bush who later turned out to be liberal on the bench.

“The circumstances seem to be very similar,” said Brownback, who will meet with Miers on Thursday. “Not much track record, people vouching for her, yet indications of a different thought pattern earlier in life.”

Anti-abortion group Operation: Rescue on Tuesday promised an active campaign to get Bush to withdraw her nomination.

“The president seems to do what is politically expedient, versus what is morally correct,” said Troy Newman, leader of Operation: Rescue. “Therefore, if we make it politically expedient for him to do the moral thing, that’s what he’ll do.”