Nominee Dismisses Speculation on Roe

By Charles Babington and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers asserted yesterday that no one knows whether she would vote to overturn the landmark court ruling that gave women the right to abortions, according to two senators who held separate meetings with her.

Trying to woo senators who will determine whether she is confirmed for the court, Miers aided the White House as it scrambled yesterday to quell controversy over a published report that two Texas judges said she opposes the 1973 decision that affirmed the right to an abortion in all 50 states. "She said, 'No one knows how I would rule on Roe v. Wade ,' " Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after their private meeting.

But as Miers sought to distance herself from the judges' assertions, her day on Capitol Hill ended in confusion over how far she went in telling senators that she believes there is a constitutional right to privacy -- the right that is the legal premise of Roe .

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) emerged from a 100-minute meeting with the nominee and said that she stated she believes that a right to privacy exists. Initially, Specter told reporters that Miers had said "she backs Griswold ," referring to a 1965 case that dealt with access to contraceptives on the basis of privacy considerations.

But last night, a spokesman for Specter issued a statement saying that Miers had called him after his public comments "to say that he misunderstood her and that she had not taken a position on Griswold or the privacy issue."

"Sen. Specter accepts Ms. Miers's statement that he misunderstood what she said," the statement said.

Former senator Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who is helping guide Miers through the confirmation process, sat in on her meeting with Specter. He later said Miers agreed that the constitution's "liberty clause" implies a right to privacy. But she stopped short of embracing specific rulings such as Griswold , according to White House spokesman Jim Dyke, who spoke with Coats.

Meanwhile, Schumer said that he had asked Miers whether she believes Griswold is "settled law," and that "she said she was not ready to give an answer on that."

Specter, a moderate Republican who supports abortion rights, will preside over Miers's confirmation hearings. He seemed eager to put her qualifications in the best light possible, defending her against assertions that she knows little about constitutional law.

Specter said he questioned her about several civil cases she had handled as a lawyer in Dallas and found her versed in their sometimes complex legal issues. He also said Miers, as president of the Dallas bar and the Texas bar, had pushed for greater participation by minorities and had handled a habeas corpus case free.

"All of that is relevant as to her capacity to handle constitutional issues," Specter said.

Miers, the White House counsel and a longtime confidante of Bush's, met yesterday with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They will conduct her confirmation hearings, probably next month.

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