Miers Nomination on Uncertain Ground

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. She has received a less-than-enthusiastic response on Capitol Hill, mainly from Senate Republicans. Senators await her revisions to a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that was sent back to her last week.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

There is a cloud hanging over the nomination of Harriet Miers. The president's Supreme Court pick has received a less-than-enthusiastic response on Capitol Hill, mainly from Senate Republicans. And today there were more questions about her record and about her views. Senators are waiting for her revisions to a questionnaire they sent back to her last week. NPR's David Welna is at the Capitol.

DAVID WELNA reporting:

Harriet Miers was back on Capitol Hill making courtesy calls to senators today, even though some Republicans say her visits may be doing more harm than good. After meeting with her for nearly an hour, Louisiana Republican David Vitter hesitated when asked if she had impressed him.

Senator DAVID VITTER (Republican, Louisiana): Um, she was, um, forthcoming. She was engaging, so I was happy to see that.

WELNA: Vitter later downgraded that assessment, issuing a statement saying she was `fairly forthcoming.' He said what he mainly wanted to know was whether she had what he called a `consistent and well-grounded conservative judicial philosophy.'

Sen. VITTER: Well, she said a lot that strengthened that view. What I am even more interested in, again, is objective evidence that goes back to before the nomination.

WELNA: White House documents?

Sen. VITTER: Certainly could include that, sure.

WELNA: Vitter said he also wanted to know more about a speech Miers made a dozen years ago that was described in a front-page story in today's Washington Post. In it, Miers was quoted as saying, `We gave up long ago on legislating religion or morality.'

Sen. VITTER: We talked about what she meant about that for some time, and she suggested basically that a lot more was being read into it than what she was trying to express.

WELNA: That 1993 speech to a women's group in Dallas also raised concerns with Kansas Republican Sam Brownback, a conservative member of the Judiciary Committee.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (Republican, Kansas; Judiciary Committee Member): The philosophy that it seems to express about a more activist judiciary and a judiciary that acts in areas that have been left traditionally to the legislature and a judiciary that moves into legislative fields, which has been a very--you know, at some of the core of the things I've been most concerned about.

WELNA: And Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman said he had concerns of his own to raise with Miers about tax shelter deals set up by major accounting firms that benefited her Dallas law firm.

Senator NORM COLEMAN (Republican, Minnesota): Her law firm wrote the opinions for those--and, again, questionable. They were questionable. They weren't clearly ruled illegal. Questionable. But there was a significant volume of business done by her law firm, in the millions of dollars. And so I certainly have questions about her role. I don't have the answers; I just have questions, although I'll be visiting with her--that will certainly be on my list.

WELNA: The Judiciary Committee's Republican chair, Arlen Specter, released a letter today that he sent to Miers asking that she be prepared to answer a series of questions during hearings that involve work she did at the White House, issues ranging from enemy combatant policy-making to the president's authority to wage war. South Dakota Republican John Thune said today that the White House should release Miers' non-privileged documents, even though President Bush is opposed to doing so.

Senator JOHN THUNE (Republican, South Dakota): And I think that information's good. I think the White House needs to get that out for both sides, for the benefit of both sides. Democrats are--like you said, they're going to clamor for more information, no matter what, and they're never going to be satisfied. They're always going to say it's not enough. But I think this is an issue that is also important for Republicans, who are trying to form opinions about her and don't have a lot to go on at this point.

WELNA: South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham said today that Miers is going to have to do well at her confirmation hearings, which begin November 7th.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): The burden on her at the hearing is going to be greater because the attacks about competency and the allegation of cronyism have to be rebutted by her. She has to establish a judicial philosophy 'cause not one is readily apparent right now.

WELNA: But already some Republican senators are saying they could vote against Miers, including Mississippi's Trent Lott.

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): I just cannot get excited about her selection. Now I'm going to wait and see. I haven't made a definite decision, but I have not been able to get comfortable with it.

WELNA: Much may also ride on how well Miers revised and expanded her answers on the questionnaire she was sent back last week, a document that was due to be returned today. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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