White House Drums Up Support for Miers

The White House is working to build support for Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, who is drawing some skeptical reaction from conservatives who say they are unsure of her philosophy. Monday, a handful of Texas legal leaders arrived at the White House to promote Miers' nomination.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers is visiting senators this week here in Washington. These meetings come as lawmakers are reviewing documents that may provide clues to Miers' judicial philosophy. But definitive answers may be harder to come by. One lawmaker says that when their talk turned to abortion, Miers said nobody knows her views. That is not stopping the conversation among people who think they know, nor is it reassuring some conservatives who say they are unsure of Miers' philosophy. The White House is using new tactics to build support for President Bush's nominee after some earlier tactics backfired. And we'll start our coverage this morning with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG reporting:

Last week proved disastrous for the White House as the president tried to reassure the conservative base once again about the religious credentials of his nominee.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions, and part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion.

TOTENBERG: But far from being reassured, many cultural conservatives were outraged by the president's invocation of religion. The Reverend Rob Schenck said that after briefly chatting with Miers in a Capitol Hill hallway, he was convinced she's a faithful and committed born-again Christian, but not convinced that she would be the kind of conservative he would want on the court. In an interview with NPR, he said that he was troubled by her one-time service as head of the state lottery commission, troubled by her contributions to Democrats more than 15 years ago, troubled by the fact that she attends St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, a church also attended by the president, but which is part of a diocese that Schenck observes blesses homosexual unions.

Reverend ROB SCHENCK (President, National Clergy Council): With us it's often an all-or-nothing game. If you embrace any part of that, what we would consider an agenda contrary to the moral teachings of the Christian church, traditionally and of Scripture, then you have a problem.

TOTENBERG: Last week, James Dobson, of Focus On the Family, tried to quiet a furor he'd sparked when he said that he favored the Miers nomination because of some things he had been told by the White House but was not at liberty to disclose. In fact, Dobson said last week he had not been given any assurances from top White House aide Karl Rove as to how Miers would vote on Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court's abortion decision. But yesterday, conservative columnist John Fund, writing in The Wall Street Journal, said that while Rove may not have given such assurances, two judges who were friends of Miers had done so when they talked to a group of conservative Christian leaders in a conference call that had been set up at Rove's suggestion. Fund quoted at length from notes taken of the conference call, and said many of the participants are now worried that they may be subpoenaed to testify at the Miers confirmation hearing.

The White House, however, has now moved onto to a new strategy. The president, yesterday, brought to the Oval Office a handful of Texas legal leaders who know Miers. Leading the delegation was former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice John Hill, a Democrat who has previously endorsed other controversial Bush judicial nominees. Of Miers, he said simply...

Mr. JOHN HILL (Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice): I would trust her with my wife and my life.

TOTENBERG: Others, like former state Supreme Court Justice Eugene Cook, were more traditional in their praise, calling Miers a lawyer of high repute.

Mr. EUGENE COOK (Former State Supreme Court Justice): Harriet Miers has common sense, which is a very rare commodity and which the courts could use a lot more of.

TOTENBERG: Also yesterday, the Justice Department made available more than 6,000 pages of previously disclosed documents from Miers' tenure on the Dallas City Council. The pile consisted entirely of minutes from city council meetings between 1989 and '91 when Miers served on the council. Since none of the documents was written by Miers they are unlikely to mollify critics who've sought information that would shed light on her legal philosophy.

And finally yesterday, the American Bar Association released the transcript of Miers' appearances before the association in the early 1990s when she attempted to roll back the ABA's position in favor of abortion rights. In urging the association to take a neutral stance on abortion, however, Miers used language that would likely be anathema to most in the pro-life movement. `When you understand as I do,' said Miers, `that the choice issue is inextricably entwined with the debate of total freedom for women, then' she said, `you understand the depth of carrying an emotion by those who want the ABA to endorse abortion rights.' The issue, however, she contended, was too divisive and to take a position would not be fair to the many members who had a different view. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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