President Bush said Wednesday his advisers were telling conservatives about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers’ religious beliefs because they are interested in her background and “part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.”
“People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,” Bush told reporters at the White House. “They want to know Harriet Miers’ background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.”
Bush, speaking at the conclusion of an Oval Office meeting with visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said that his advisers were reaching out to conservatives who oppose her nomination “just to explain the facts.”
He spoke on a day in which conservative James Dobson, founder of Focus on Family, said he had discussed the nominee’s religious views with presidential aide Karl Rove.
Not even a congressional recess nor Bush’s preoccupation with hurricane recovery and affairs of state have shrouded the continuing controversy surrounding his selection of Miers to replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Debate about Miers’ credentials was prominent on the Sunday television talk shows and has continued to occupy considerable attention on the Internet.
Some of Bush’s conservative critics say Miers has no judicial record that proves she will strictly interpret the Constitution and not — as Busy says — “legislate from the bench.” They argue that Bush passed up other more qualified candidates to nominate someone from his inner circle.
Stance on abortion unclear
On a radio show being broadcast Wednesday, Dobson said he discussed Miers with Rove on Oct. 1, two days before her nomination was announced. Dobson said Rove told him “she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life,” but denied he had gotten any assurances from the White House that she would vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
Dobson said Rove told him that Miers had been a member of Texas Right to Life. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said she was not a member of the organization “that I'm aware of.”
“My understanding is that she attended some events, some fund-raising events that they had,” McClellan said.
Miers bought a $150 ticket to a 1989 fund-raising dinner for another anti-abortion group — Texans United for Life — according to the president of the group, now called the Texans for Life Coalition.
Leahy: ‘We don't confirm ... on a wink and a nod’
Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said: “The rest of America, including the Senate, deserves to know what he and the White House know.”
“We don’t confirm Justices of the Supreme Court on a wink and a nod. And a litmus test is no less a litmus test by using whispers and signals,” the Vermont senator said. “No political faction should be given a monopoly of relevant knowledge about a nomination, just as no faction should be permitted to hound a nominee to withdraw, before the hearing process has even begun.”
Earlier Wednesday, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asserted that Miers would bring “a unique brand of experience” to the high court and that the concerns of critics would be eased once more is known about her.
Gonzales, himself once considered a leading candidate for a vacancy there, said there is “nothing unique or earth-shattering” about Miers’ nomination and said people should give her time to say who she is and what she believes.
Also, presidential spokesman Scott McClellan acknowledged there were some prospective candidates who told the White House that they preferred not to be considered, citing the ordeal of the confirmation process.
“Washington scares people away? Is that new?” McClellan asked. “There are plenty of good people willing to be considered. The president found the best person.”
Some turned down Supreme Court nomination
McClellan later said that “it was just a couple of people” who asked that their names be withdrawn, and it happened when the field of candidates was “in the double digits.” He declined to say whether “a couple” meant just two — or more.
Asked why Rove would have discussed Miers’ religious views if the president ascribes to a conservative judicial philosophy that backs a strict interpretation of the Constitution regardless of one’s views on various issues, McClellan said it was just part of an “outreach” to help people get to know Miers.
“What we have seen so far,” Leahy said, “is more of a commentary on the litmus tests and narrow motivations of vocal factions on the Republican right than it is a commentary on the qualifications of Harriet Miers.”