Neas: Miers Deserved a Hearing

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Ralph Neas of the liberal group People for the American Way. Neas' group was undecided about the now-withdrawn nomination of Harriet Miers, but he sas Miers should have had an opportunity to speak to her judicial philosophy. "The right wing has pounded their own president... into submission," he says.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

To get more perspective on what's happening, we're going to Ralph Neas. He is president of People for the American Way. That is a liberal group that came out strongly against the nomination of John Roberts, but remained undecided on Miers.

Mr. Neas, good morning.

Mr. RALPH NEAS (People for the American Way): Good morning.

INSKEEP: What do you think of Miers' withdrawal?

Mr. NEAS: This is an astonishing spectacle. I'm not sure in my 30 years of working on Supreme Court nominations I've ever seen a more total and abject capitulation by a United States president to the far right of his party. This is a complete surrender, and I think it demonstrates the ultra-right-wing dominance of Republican Party politics is total. She deserved a hearing. We had concerns about Harriet Miers with respect to her judicial philosophy and whether or not she would be independent from George W. Bush and Karl Rove, but we thought she deserved a hearing, and I think there was a consensus in the Senate for a hearing.

INSKEEP: Well, now wait a minute. Wait a minute. I just have to ask, are you saying you actually liked Harriet Miers or you're just making a political point here?

Mr. NEAS: I'm not willing to say whether we liked her or disliked her. What we've said is that we had concerns that we thought the hearings should address and Harriet Miers should have an opportunity to speak to her judicial philosophy and whether or not she would be independent on the court if confirmed. But what we've seen is the right wing has pounded their own president and the president's nominee into submission and are demanding really someone who will pledge, who will guarantee to overturn precedents that protect privacy and equal opportunity, religious liberty and the environment.

INSKEEP: We've heard conservatives this morning say that they've got a list of 10, 15, 20 people who are regarded as well-qualified by conservatives and in some cases would be rather controversial: Janice Rogers Brown, Priscilla Owen, names like that. Are you concerned about who the president nominates next?

Mr. NEAS: Absolutely. One would hope after this sorry episode that the president would demonstrate leadership and would actually recover some strength if he could choose someone who has a great legal mind and a mainstream judicial philosophy. That kind of nominee could get bipartisan support and we could make sure that we have someone who brings the country together. What the right wants, they didn't think Harriet Miers was a person who they could count on to overturn decades of Supreme Court precedents. They want someone who will turn back the clock on 70 years of constitutional jurisprudence. This is a dangerous moment, a watershed moment, and I hope especially with so much happening overseas and so much happening in this country that the president will choose cooperation and consensus over confrontation. But my gut is that the right wing has dictated the outcome in terms of the next nominee. I hope I'm wrong.

INSKEEP: Are there conservatives--and you know who everybody is here--are there conservatives that could plausibly be nominated by a conservative president, a Republican president that you could support?

Mr. NEAS: There are a number of conservative judges and lawyers who could get tremendous bipartisan support. We have recommended someone in the mode of Sandra Day O'Connor, a mainstream conservative, someone who's certainly not gonna agree with People for the American Way on every issue, but someone who would bring independence and judgment and moderation to the bench. I can think of, for example, a couple of Latino judges, Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit, Jose Cabranes from the 2nd Circuit.

INSKEEP: How about Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general?

Mr. NEAS: Alberto Gonzales is someone certainly who should be considered. We did oppose him because of his positions on a number of legal issues for the position of attorney general. We have said on the record that if he's nominated for the Supreme Court, we would carefully look at his entire public record, including as attorney general, but we have not taken a position on someone like Alberto Gonzales.

INSKEEP: Mr. Neas, thanks very much.

Mr. NEAS: Stay in touch, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ralph Neas is president of People for the American Way.

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