By Amy Goldstein and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers once pledged that she would "actively support" a constitutional amendment banning abortions except to save a mother's life, participate in antiabortion rallies, and try to block the flow of public money to clinics and organizations that help women obtain the procedure.
Those 1989 written promises to an antiabortion group, made as she was campaigning for a seat on the Dallas City Council, came to light in documents that Miers delivered to the Senate yesterday. They emerged one day after she assured two senators that no one knows how she would vote on Roe v. Wade , the landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide.
Miers also disclosed that she was briefly suspended by the District of Columbia Bar recently for not paying her annual dues.
While providing the most definitive evidence to date that she has publicly opposed broad abortion rights, yesterday's disclosure did not appear to quell doubts among some conservatives that Miers, the White House counsel and a longtime friend of President Bush, is a sound choice to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor for a pivotal seat on the nation's highest court. Her attitude toward abortion has become a central issue in the controversy surrounding her rocky nomination to the court.
Some Republicans said they were not convinced by a 16-year-old promise from her brief foray into local politics; others said that too much uncertainty hovers around her beliefs overall. "That shows where her political views were," Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of the 10-question form she filled out for the Texas antiabortion group, then called Texans United for Life. "But I don't think it tells us how she would rule on a particular case."
Paul M. Weyrich, founder of the Free Congress Foundation, which is not supporting Miers, said: "There is absolutely no guarantee that she would end up voting that way if given the opportunity."
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said that, as Miers was being vetted by her White House colleagues before her nomination, Bush "was informed of the views she had expressed as a candidate for public office back in the late '80s." McClellan said that aides had heard of but not seen the questions from the antiabortion group and that the president did not ask her whether she still holds the same views.
Miers handed over the one-sheet form along with her answers to a lengthy questionnaire the Judiciary Committee asked her to fill out in preparation for the confirmation hearings the panel will conduct, probably in early November.
In her response to the questionnaire, Miers divulged little about the precise experience -- and legal expertise -- she has acquired in three high-level jobs during the past five years in the Bush White House.
Asked to explain how much exposure she has had to constitutional issues, Miers, a corporate lawyer before she joined the administration, replied in broad terms, saying she has been "called upon to advise the president and White House officials on presidential prerogatives, the separation of powers, executive authority and the constitutionality of proposed regulations and statutes." She also cited five cases she handled in private practice and issues such as voter redistricting, zoning matters and police issues that arose during her one term on the Dallas council.
As for her problems with the D.C. bar, Miers said she neglected to pay her dues, and "as a result my ability to practice law in D.C. had been suspended."
Cynthia Kuhn, a spokeswoman for the D.C. bar, said Miers was nearly four months late in paying her 2004-05 dues to maintain her membership, which is required of all lawyers who practice in the District. Kuhn said that the $165 fee was due July 1, 2004, and that Miers was sent three bills and reminders before her membership was suspended on Sept. 30. Nearly a month after a suspension notice was sent, Miers mailed a check for her dues, a late fee and a reinstatement fee that the organization processed on Oct. 27.
Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman, said that federal lawyers are not required to belong to the D.C. bar, as long as they are bar members in their home states -- Texas, in Miers's case.
White House colleagues have portrayed Miers as uncommonly meticulous in her work. Yet her 57-page response to the committee's questionnaire appears, in several aspects, less precise than the one submitted in August by the last nominee to the court, John G. Roberts Jr., now the chief justice. She listed as "date unknown" a commencement address that she gave at the Texas Tech University School of Law. And asked to list all interviews she had granted newspapers and other news organizations, she omitted an interview with The Washington Post in June.
In acknowledging her problem with the D.C. bar, Miers wrote that she was notified about her delinquent dues "earlier this year," although it actually was during 2004.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), an outspoken Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said, "This questionnaire should have been completed with care and candor, but it seems to be a bit rushed and not as carefully prepared as one would hope."
Miers at times appeared unusually inclusive in describing her role as a voice in the legal profession. Asked about talks and speeches she has given, she listed five dozen, including a few occasions in which she introduced main speakers, a eulogy she gave for the federal judge for whom she had clerked, and "proposed talking points" for a speech on the Texas Lottery Commission that she marked as "uncertain whether delivered."
In contrast to Roberts, who said in his questionnaire response that he had argued orally before the Supreme Court 39 times, Miers has made no such appearances. With a corporate practice that rarely involved trial work, Miers, 60, said that she had identified eight cases that went through complete trials, of which she was the lead counsel for four.
Miers also revealed that she had been asked whether she wanted to be considered for the first of two vacancies on the court last summer, when O'Connor announced her retirement. She said she replied that she was not interested.
Meanwhile yesterday, controversy and confusion persisted for a second day regarding what Miers said about abortion and privacy rights during a closed meeting Monday with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
Shortly after the 100-minute session, Specter told reporters that Miers had embraced two Supreme Court rulings -- including the 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut -- that are considered important predecessors to the 1973 Roe ruling. Miers phoned Specter on Monday night to say she had not endorsed Griswold, and the senator's office later that night issued an e-mail saying Specter "accepts Ms. Miers's statement that he misunderstood what she said."
Yesterday, however, Specter told reporters that his recollection of the conversation remains "the one I gave you" Monday. Specter, a moderate who supports abortion rights, portrayed the confirmation process as among the most chaotic and contradictory of his 25 years in the Senate. "I can't think of one where a disagreement arose in quite this way," he said. Specter said he will revisit his Monday conversation with Miers but only at the hearing, when cameras and tape recorders will be rolling. "I may meet with her again on other subjects," he said. "But not on this conversation. We've had it. I've had it."
Specter said he does not think Miers's nomination is in trouble. But other Senate leaders said she must ease many worried minds. "The Miers nomination is a challenge in that people are asking so many questions, and the answers are not there yet," Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told reporters.
Meanwhile, the Dallas-based antiabortion group to which Miers made the promises, Texans United for Life, did not send questions to Dallas City Council members routinely, but only when a candidate asked for an endorsement, according to the president of Texans for Life Coalition, the successor to the older group. The president, Kyleen Wright, who was a board member in 1989, said that although the 10 questions -- for all of which Miers checked "yes" for antiabortion stances -- did not specifically mention Roe , based on her answers, "the presumption, then, is that she would have a problem with Roe ."