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Miers confirmation hearings to start on Nov. 7

Confirmation hearings for White House counsel Harriet Miers, President Bush's choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, will commence the first week of November.
/ Source: news services

Confirmation hearings for White House counsel Harriet Miers, President Bush’s choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, will begin the first week of November.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the decision to start the hearings on Nov. 7 was passed on to Republican Judiciary Committee members by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at a meeting Wednesday morning.

“That's what the chairman told us,” Coburn said after leaving the private meeting.

Meanwhile, Specter and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, told Miers to elaborate on what they criticized as inadequate answers to their questionnaire.

At a news conference, Specter described the written responses by President Bush’s nominee as “insufficient,” and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat, said some had complained the answers were even “insulting.”

“Please prepare a supplement to your responses ... with as much detail, particularity and precision as possible,” they wrote in . They cited a number of areas, including her experience with constitutional issues and her brief suspension for nonpayment of dues to the District of Columbia Bar Association.

We don't have enough’
“We don’t have enough in this questionnaire, the answers so far, to go forward,” Specter said, complaining about a “chaotic” confirmation process so far in the drive to examine Miers’ qualifications for the nation’s highest court.

Miers quickly replied, writing in a letter to Specter and Leahy that she would “work to provide additional materials.”

Miers added that after returning the filled-out questionnaire on Tuesday, “I became aware that, as a result of an administrative oversight, my Texas Bar license was administratively suspended from September 1 to September 26, 1989, due to late payment of my bar dues.”

“The administrative suspension was lifted as soon as my dues were received,” Miers wrote.

A White House spokeswoman said the Texas law firm where Miers worked had the responsibility to pay the dues of its lawyer, but due to a “clerical error” failed to include the dues of Miers and two others in a “bulk payment.”

Specter, asked if Miers’ nomination was in trouble, said, ”No.” But earlier this week he said, “This nomination is going to rise or fall on the hearing.”

Nomination under fire
Miers’ nomination has been criticized by some conservatives who believe she may not be conservative enough, while others have questioned her credentials. She has never been a judge.

Specter said he plans to ask the White House, which has been reluctant to release documents, to provide some ”non-privileged” materials dealing with Miers’ work as Bush’s lawyer.

Specter announced that despite complaints by some Democrats that more time was needed to evaluate Miers, her confirmation hearing will begin Nov. 7.

Specter and Leahy stressed, however, that there is no agreement on when the committee evaluation will be completed.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Miers expected to be asked more questions. “Ms. Miers told Senator Specter that she had years of files to go through and that she would work to complete the questionnaire as quickly as possible, but that it was likely she would have to send follow-ups to provide additional information,” Perino said.

No Democrat or Republican has announced opposition to Miers and several have praised the 60-year-old nominee, the first woman to head the Texas Bar Association.

Praise and concerns
But many have voiced concerns and have said that they will withhold judgment until after her confirmation hearing.

Some fellow conservatives have accused Bush of breaking a campaign promise to nominate someone in the mold of two of the Supreme Court’s most conservative justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Such a nominee, they say, could firmly shift the court to the right on such issues as abortion.

Leahy and Specter, in their letter to Miers, asked that she respond with amplified responses to specific questions by Oct. 26. In particular they asked Miers to explain in more detail her experience with “constitutional issues.”

“You explained that as White House counsel you are regularly faced with issues involving constitutional questions, but gave us no specifics,” they wrote.

They also asked her to further explain her suspension from the D.C. bar for nonpayment of dues this year and whether during that time she appeared in any courts in Washington.

Specter, who has said Miers needs to bone up for the hearing, said he told her a week ago, “We’re not going to start these hearings until you’re prepared. And she said November 7th she’d be ready to go.”

‘Cart before horse’
But committee member Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., disagreed. “Setting a date for the hearing before we have gotten any information or documents is putting the cart before the horse,” Schumer said. “We know less about this nominee than we knew about any previous nominee.”

Republicans are pushing to have Miers confirmed and on the bench before Thanksgiving. O’Connor has cast the pivotal vote in a string of 5-4 rulings in recent years that sustained abortion rights, upheld affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty.

Bush picked Miers, a 60-year-old whose private law practice consisted almost entirely of representing corporate clients, to be O’Connor’s replacement three weeks ago, creating a furor among conservatives. Many Republicans had hoped Bush would pick a prominent conservative with a long record on abortion and other issues.

Lukewarm reaction from conservatives
While no Senate Republicans have publicly opposed her nomination, the reaction among the chamber’s conservatives has been mostly tepid. She has been visiting conservative senators this week, and was to talk with Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky on Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told reporters Tuesday he thought Miers was making headway among conservatives.

“Grass-roots Republicans that I talk to in Alabama feel positive about her,” he told reporters. “I might have liked a different type of nominee but that’s the president’s. He gets to pick that.”

Miers may have made some headway with her Supreme Court questionnaire, which was turned in to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

Miers pledged pro-life support
According to documents released with the questionnaire, Miers pledged unflagging opposition to abortion as a candidate for the Dallas City Council in 1989. She backed a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure in most cases and promised to appear at “pro-life rallies and special events.”

Asked in a Texans United for Life questionnaire whether she would support legislation restricting abortions if the Supreme Court allowed it, Miers indicated she would. Her reply was the same when asked, “Will you oppose the use of city funds or facilities” to promote abortions?

Supporters of Miers’ nomination said they hoped the single sheet of paper — delivered to the committee as part of a shipment of 12 boxes of documents — would help reassure rebellious conservatives that she would not disappoint them if she takes a seat on the high court.