Specter to Press Miers in Hearings

By Christopher Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 10, 2005

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers will get a thorough vetting by the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel's chairman said yesterday, adding that critics of President Bush's pick have pilloried the nomination before giving Miers a chance to be heard.

"What you've had here . . . is not a rush to judgment -- it's a stampede to judgment," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on ABC's "This Week." "She's faced one of the toughest lynch mobs ever assembled in Washington, D.C., and we really assemble some tough lynch mobs."

The nomination of Miers, 60, the White House counsel and a longtime associate of Bush, has been condemned by some conservatives who bemoan her lack of a judicial track record and say she is hardly the most qualified person for the seat being vacated by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Miers was a corporate lawyer and has never served as a judge.

Specter said he would press Miers "very hard" on her approach to legal issues such as whether the Roe v. Wade abortion decision is settled law, and on whether she has privately given anyone assurances on how she would vote on the bench. He will even ask to see her law school transcript from Southern Methodist University because "academic standing is relevant," he said.

Specter and Vermont Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the committee's ranking Democrat, said they intend to follow up on a comment by Focus on the Family founder and chairman James C. Dobson that, based on conversations with White House adviser Karl Rove, he believes she opposes abortion and would be a good justice.

"This is a lifetime appointment," Specter said. "If there are backroom assurances and there are backroom deals, and if there is something which bears upon a precondition as to how a nominee is going to vote, I think that's a matter that ought to be known by the Judiciary Committee and the American people."

Leahy said he would oppose any nominee who gives assurances about how he or she would vote on particular cases. "I would vote against that person," he said. "I wouldn't care whether they are nominated by a Democrat or a Republican. . . . And all 100 senators should vote against them under that basis alone."

Leahy said Miers has told him that she has given no such assurances. Specter said he does not believe she has either.

Nathan L. Hecht, a Texas Supreme Court justice who has dated Miers on and off for years, said yesterday that Miers has been an abortion opponent for 25 years but would decide cases based on legal merits, not personal views.

"Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things," Hecht said on "Fox News Sunday." "Judges do it all the time."

That provided no comfort to conservative activist Gary Bauer, a critic of the nomination who appeared on the same program.

"I'm confused here," Bauer said. "I can't tell whether Judge Hecht is arguing that she is going to overturn Roe or she's not going to overturn Roe . If he wants to reassure his fellow pro-life conservatives, that's the last argument he should be making, the argument that he just made."

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