Conservatives Escalate Opposition to Miers

By Michael A. Fletcher and Charles Babington
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Conservative activists intensified their opposition to the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers yesterday, launching two Web sites and planning radio and television advertising aimed at forcing her withdrawal.

The advocacy groups, which had expected to use their vast mailing lists and fundraising networks to support President Bush's Supreme Court nominees, instead are employing those tools to sow concern about Miers's conservative credentials and lack of judicial experience among their constituents outside Washington.

The public effort against Miers is supported by a wide range of well-known conservative figures and organizations, whose individual misgivings about the nomination have now coalesced into a coordinated effort to derail it.

Bush, speaking to reporters, again rallied to the defense of the troubled nomination, but he warned that he would not accede to requests from senators for documents detailing Miers's White House work. He said this would violate his right to receive confidential advice, but senators in both parties said the documents might allay concerns about her qualifications.

Some conservatives believe Bush could avoid this dispute by pulling the plug on the nomination.

"We've had three weeks here to try to sort out what kind of judge she is going to be," said Brian Burch, vice president of Fidelis, a Catholic antiabortion organization urging Miers's withdrawal. "We really do want to support the administration, but we just feel like we've reached a situation with this nomination that is beyond repair."

The campaign marks a dramatic escalation in the battle over her nomination that has fractured Bush's conservative base. While right-leaning columnists and publications, including George Will and the National Review, have called for her withdrawal, the new efforts are the first direct attempts at turning grass-roots conservatives against Miers.

"This kind of activity is unusual," said a Republican lawyer working with the White House to support Miers. "It's hard to know what the impact is yet. Some of that probably depends on what is happening outside the Beltway."

Bush sidestepped a question about whether the White House was preparing a "contingency plan" in case her nomination fails. "Harriet Miers is a fine person, and I expect her to have a good, fair hearing on Capitol Hill," he said.

On the question of documents, he said: "It's a red line I'm not willing to cross. . . . People can learn about Harriet Miers through hearings, but we are not going to destroy this business about people being able to walk into the Oval Office and say, 'Mr. President, here's my advice to you, here's what I think is important.' "

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, urged the White House to be more forthcoming with "non-privileged documents." Such records, he said, might illuminate general areas in which Miers gave advice to the president but stop short of making her divulge the advice itself.

He said the White House should say whether Miers gave advice on subjects such as the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. "I believe that if Ms. Miers does well at her hearing that she can be confirmed without touching on the issue of executive privilege," Specter said. "The Senate has not asked for anything falling under executive privilege."

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