Senate to Start Miers Confirmation Hearings Nov. 7

10-19-05 - Confirmation hearings for White House counsel Harriet Miers, President Bush's choice to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, will commence the first full week of November.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., said the decision to start the hearings on Nov. 7 was passed on to Republican Judiciary Committee members by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., at a meeting this morning.

"That's what the chairman told us," Coburn said after leaving the private meeting.

Specter would not confirm the date after leaving the meeting, saying he would have a news conference later Wednesday to announce the date.

Democrats have been pushing to start the hearing later in the month, saying there is no need to rush the White House counsel's confirmation since O'Connor has promised to stay on the court until her replacement is approved by the Senate.

"Setting a date for the hearing before we have gotten any information or documents is putting the cart before the horse," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "We know less about this nominee than we knew about any previous nominee."

Republicans are pushing to have Miers confirmed and on the bench before Thanksgiving. O'Connor has cast the pivotal vote in a string of 5-4 rulings in recent years that sustained abortion rights, upheld affirmative action and limited the application of the death penalty.

Bush picked Miers, a 60-year-old whose private law practice consisted almost entirely of representing corporate clients, to be O'Connor's replacement three weeks ago, creating a furor among conservatives. Many Republicans had hoped Bush would pick a prominent conservative with a long record on abortion and other issues.

While no Senate Republicans have publicly opposed her nomination, the reaction among the chamber's conservatives has been mostly tepid. She has been visiting conservative senators this week, and was to talk with Republican Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky on Wednesday.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., told reporters Tuesday he thought Miers was making headway among conservatives.

"Grassroots Republicans that I talk to in Alabama feel positive about her," he told reporters. "I might have liked a different type of nominee but that's the president's. He gets to pick that."

Miers may have made some headway with her Supreme Court questionnaire, which was turned in to the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

According to documents released with the questionnaire, Miers pledged unflagging opposition to abortion as a candidate for the Dallas City Council in 1989. She backed a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure in most cases and promised to appear at "pro-life rallies and special events."

Asked in a Texans United for Life questionnaire whether she would support legislation restricting abortions if the Supreme Court allowed it, Miers indicated she would. Her reply was the same when asked, "Will you oppose the use of city funds or facilities" to promote abortions?

Supporters of Miers' nomination said they hoped the single sheet of paper _ delivered to the committee as part of a shipment of 12 boxes of documents _ would help reassure rebellious conservatives that she would not disappoint them if she takes a seat on the high court.

Democratic senators responded warily to the information on Tuesday. "This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. "It will be my intention to question her very carefully about these issues."

A group of former Dallas Bar Association presidents sent a letter Wednesday to senators endorsing Miers, calling her "a fair and studious lawyer of great integrity."

The letter was was signed by 19 past presidents of the Dallas Bar and its current president, Timothy W. Mountz. Miers was the first woman to serve as president of the Dallas Bar in 1985, and of the Texas Bar in 1992-93.