10-10-05 - Harriet Miers' qualifications to be a Supreme Court justice and her views on privacy rights will be a focus of her confirmation hearings, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter says.
Miers must show she can handle complicated legal issues and has not cut deals with the White House to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion, Specter, R-Pa., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."
President Bush's nomination of Miers, a longtime confidante and White House counsel but never a judge, has caused division among conservatives. A leader of the right said he will not be satisfied until it is clear whether she would vote to overturn the abortion ruling.
"You can be an evangelical and you can be self-described pro-life," Gary Bauer, president of the American Values Coalition, said of Miers. "But it doesn't tell us what she will do about a decision like Roe that has been set in stone now for over 30 years. And that's the rub."
Specter, noting that a justice has lifetime tenure, said: "If there are backroom assurances and if 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."
Specter and the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat, Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, are considering having James Dobson, founder of the social conservative group Focus on the Family, testify to the panel.
Dobson has said he is confident that Miers opposes abortion, based on private assurances from the White House.
Disputing that, Leahy said Miers assured him she had not made any promises on how she would vote on Roe.
"If assurances were given of how any nominee _ whether this nominee or anybody else _ and somebody gives assurances how they're going to vote in an upcoming case, I would vote against that person," said Leahy, who appeared with Specter on ABC.
In recent days, many conservatives have expressed outrage that Bush did not choose a nominee with a proven judicial track record. They said it was risky putting Miers on the court because she was a blank slate on issues such as abortion and the death penalty. Some activists say she should withdraw her nomination.
Bauer, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," suggested that conservatives will not support Miers unless they have assurances that she would oppose Roe.
Defending Miers, Texas Supreme Court Judge Nathan Hecht said she would overcome the criticism and would not step aside. He said the former corporate lawyer was an abortion opponent, but said that does not mean she would vote to overturn Roe.
"Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things. Judges do it all the time," Hecht said on Fox.
Specter cautioned against a rush to judgment on Miers, saying she's faced "one of the toughest lynch mobs ever." But Miers will need to be able to justify to senators whether she is qualified in order to be confirmed, he said.
"When you deal in constitutional law, you're dealing in some very esoteric, complicated subjects that require a great deal of background," Specter said. "The jurisprudence is very complicated, and I will be pressing her very hard on these issues."
Specter and Leahy said they will strive to hold confirmation hearings as soon as possible, perhaps before Thanksgiving, but their primary concern was to conduct a thorough investigation.
"The standard is to do it right, not to do it fast," Specter said.
Hoping to ascertain Miers' views, Senate Democrats are pushing the White House to release reams of documents from the time Miers served under Bush as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff and White House counsel.
But Specter said he did not support such a request, agreeing with the White House that the material is covered by executive privilege.