After the Home Run, a White House Balk?

Some conservative strategists are suggesting that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers halt the visits she has been making to key senators.
Some conservative strategists are suggesting that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers halt the visits she has been making to key senators. (By Joshua Roberts -- Reuters)
By Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 21, 2005

Two months after engineering a nearly flawless confirmation process for Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the Bush administration's bid to add Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court has been so riddled with errors, stumbles and embarrassing revelations that some lawmakers and other observers find it hard to believe it emanates from the same White House.

At one key juncture after another, Miers has faltered where Roberts glided. Her courtesy calls on the Judiciary Committee's top two senators prompted conflicting tales of curious comments that she may or may not have made. Her answers to the committee's questionnaire included a misinterpretation of constitutional law and were deemed so inadequate that the panel asked her to redo it. She revealed one day that her D.C. law license had been temporarily suspended -- and said the next day that the same thing had happened in Texas -- because of unpaid dues.

Most glaring of all, say activists in both parties, the White House failed to foresee the outcry from conservative activists who are leading the opposition while liberals mostly stand on the sidelines in amazement.

"I'm sort of astonished by it," said George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who has followed the nominations closely. "It's like a completely different team at the White House is handling it."

Several conservative activists who avidly backed Roberts are keeping silent or offering tepid public endorsements of Miers, using private channels to express their dismay to the White House. Yesterday, in one of the twice-weekly conference calls involving conservative leaders and organized by liaisons to the White House, several participants said Miers should stop paying visits to senators because they do more harm than good. Details of the call, first reported by, were confirmed by a participant who said no one spoke in favor of continuing the visits.

Miers, who is the White House counsel, called on two Democratic senators yesterday but declined to answer reporters' questions about her nomination.

Allies of the administration say Miers is having a rocky start because she is far less known in legal circles than was Roberts, and because she never was a judge. "This whole process is not used to a nominee who is not a sitting judge," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and a key outside strategist who has worked for both nominations. "Everybody's been kind of feeling their way over the last few weeks, and now it's moving into a phase where everybody is getting familiar with their role and the situation," he said, noting that Miers responded quickly Wednesday to the Judiciary Committee chairman's demand for more written answers.

President Bush said yesterday it is an asset that Miers has never been a judge. "I thought it made a lot of sense to bring a fresh outlook of somebody who's actually been a very successful attorney and . . . a pioneer for women lawyers in Texas," Bush told reporters at the White House. He said Miers will answer all the senators' questions, and "out of this will come a clear picture of a competent, strong, capable woman" who "is not going to legislate from the bench."

But a number of lawmakers, aides and advocates tracking the nomination say the picture thus far has been far from clear, and Miers has often looked less than competent. They cite, for example, her Oct. 5 courtesy call on Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, which will conduct her confirmation hearing starting Nov. 7.

Leahy asked Miers to name her favorite Supreme Court justices -- a standard question in such get-acquainted meetings. After some apparent hesitation, she named Warren E. Burger, a conservative who voted for the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. The answer baffled many conservatives, who note Burger is lightly regarded by court historians and is tied to the Roe ruling that many on the right revile.

Miers had no more luck when she met Monday with committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Specter told reporters that Miers had embraced the Supreme Court's 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision that was a precursor to Roe . Within minutes of his comments making the news wires, Miers phoned Specter to say he had misunderstood her.

Specter publicly agreed to accept her comments, but he stuck to his version of the visit, and Senate insiders said they are surprised that the nominee stumbled into a public dispute with the committee chairman during their first substantial conversation.

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