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New GOP jitters over Miers nomination

The mystery over just what Supreme Court Harriet Miers believes deepened Wednesday as conservative Republican senators grappled with phrases from a 1993 speech in which she endorsed “self determination” in matters such as abortion.
Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers meets with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in his Capitol Hill office Wednesday.Charles Dharapak / AP
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The mystery over what Supreme Court Harriet Miers believes deepened Wednesday as conservative Republican senators grappled with phrases from a 1993 speech in which she endorsed “self determination” in matters such as abortion.

In the speech, Miers also said, “Abortion clinic protestors have become synonymous with terrorists and the courts have been the refuge for the besieged.”

It isn’t clear from the text of the speech whether Miers herself thought anti-abortion clinic protestors were “synonymous with terrorists.”

She also said in the speech that the debate continued in society over whether “to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual woman’s right to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion.”

She said, “The more I think about these issues, the more self-determination makes the most sense.”

No legislating morality?
She added, “Legislating religion or morality we gave up on a long time ago.”

Only four years prior to making this speech, Miers had endorsed a constitutional amendment to ban abortion in most cases.

If that amendment had been ratified, then a woman’s “self-determination” on abortion would have been sharply curtailed.

A leading social conservative who serves on the , Sen. Sam Brownback, R- Kan., said of the 1993 speech, “It made me wonder what she meant… It does raise concerns.”

He compared her 1993 speech to some of the memos that John Roberts, who the Senate confirmed as chief justice last month, wrote when he served as a 25-year old attorney in the Reagan administration. But Miers was 48 years old when she made her “self-determination” speech and presumably by then she had well-formed views on the law and society.

“People’s philosophies change,” Brownback told reporters. “I’m open to hearing a person say that, but if you track left one time, and track back right, are you willing to track back left later? That’s been part of the big question mark around this candidate.”

He summed up her prospects for winning confirmation by saying, “I think she has a high hill to climb.”

Brownback said that the Judiciary Committee should consider delaying the start of hearings if the White House is late in supplying documents requested by the Committee. Those documents could shed light on Miers' work as President Bush’s counsel. The hearings are scheduled to begin on Nov 7.

Feinstein surprised
When told about the Miers “self-determination” idea on abortion, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a supporter of abortion rights, looked amused and surprised. Asked how those ideas sounded to her, Feinstein said, “Not bad. I’ll have to pursue that.”

Last week, Feinstein said that Miers’s answers to the 1989 questionnaire submitted by a group called Texans United for Life, “clearly reflect that Harriet Miers is opposed to Roe v. Wade." In that questionnaire, Miers said she backed an anti-abortion constitutional amendment. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard,” Feinstein said at the time.

But on Wednesday, with the news of the 1993 speech, the nominee’s stand on abortion became mystifying.

After meeting with Miers Wednesday morning, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., told reporters that the speech “adds to that debate.”

Asked about Miers' contention that American society had given up long ago on legislating morality, Vitter said, “If you mean, ‘is it clearly off limits to legislate in areas like the death penalty and abortion?’ I disagree with that, if that is what she meant.”

Vitter said that during his meeting with Miers, “she suggested a lot more was being read into it (her 1993 speech) than what she was trying to express.”

An apparent contradiction
Asked whether there was a contradiction between her endorsement of a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and her speech calling for “self-determination” on abortion, Vitter replied, “You could certainly read one into it....” It appeared, he said, that she was “coming at the issue from two different directions at two different points in time.”

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. told reporters he had not read the 1993 speech, but that the self-determination versus constitutional amendment clash was “a conflict which she is going to have to explain.”

President Bush said the day after he nominated Miers to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that, “I know her well enough to be able to say that she's not going to change, that 20 years from now she'll be the same person with the same philosophy that she is today…. I don't want to put somebody on the bench who is this way today, and changes.”

But the 1989 questionnaire and the 1993 speech provide evidence that her views did change in a significant way in the space of only four years.

Both verbally and in their tone, some GOP senators conveyed their continued uneasiness with the Miers nomination. Thune said, “So much is riding on her performance in front of the committee. The stakes are so large, this is a generational decision.”

Alluding to the fact that Miers, if confirmed, would replace O’Connor, who has voted in support of gay rights, the right to get an abortion, and racial preferences in college admissions, Thune said, “This is the fifth vote on all those major issues.”

The South Dakota Republican seemed to ratchet up the expectation of how well Miers’ will need to do in the public hearing in order to win Senate confirmation.

“There are going to be expectations set around here as to how she should perform, and I think she is going to have to meet or exceed those expectations,” Thune said. “I hope when she comes to the committee, she brings her ‘A’ game.”

Meanwhile, Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., sent Miers a letter Wednesday telling her that the questions he intends to ask at the hearing will be broad ranging and will include: How many years enemy combatants can be held at the Guantanamo Navy Base; and “What assurances can you give the Senate and the American people that you will be independent, if confirmed, and not give President Bush any special deference on any matter involving him which might come before the court?”