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Brownback Calls for Thoroughly Questioning Miers

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) questioned Tuesday whether Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers has a “firm commitment” to what he called the framers’ “original intent” of the Constitution, saying that President Bush’s knowledge of her “heart” didn’t end the need for tough questioning.

A potential 2008 presidential candidate and member of the Judiciary Committee, Brownback on Tuesday served up the most detailed and most hesitant statement among Senate Republicans on Miers’ nomination, waiting more than a day to offer up his critique.

“President Bush has a long-standing working relationship with Ms. Miers and I trust the president knows her heart and her mind. Even so, the confirmation process has just begun and questions about her views on the Constitution need to be answered,” Brownback said in a prepared statement, echoing Bush’s remarks Tuesday morning in a Rose Garden press conference.

Her nomination goes directly against the wishes of Brownback and many other social conservatives, who had said after the hearings for then-chief justice nominee John Roberts that they wanted the next Supreme Court nominee to be someone with a detailed track record on conservative issues, particularly opposition to the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationally.

Brownback’s staff, in a statement posted on his Web site, noted this by saying the Kansan had hoped for a nominee with a “well-formed judicial philosophy and [who would] state positions on important issues.”

But Miers has virtually no legal track record on abortion, having served her career in corporate law and then as an aide in the White House and as a personal attorney to Bush. She gave $150 to an anti-abortion group in Texas at about the same time she also gave $1,000 to the Democratic National Committee — a donation that came just days before President George H.W. Bush stood for the presidency the first time.

“I look forward to learning at her confirmation hearing whether she possesses a firm commitment to the framers’ Constitution and to the rule of law,” Brownback said. “I am hopeful that Ms. Miers will be, as President Bush promised, a qualified nominee in the mold of Justices [Antonin] Scalia and [Clarence] Thomas.”

Brownback did not outright oppose Miers, nor have any Senate Republicans to date. But the Kansas Republican went the furthest in questioning Miers’ conservative bona fides, potentially positioning himself to be the leader of a opposition to the nominee from the right if she does not meet their expectations.

To date, only a few centrist-leaning GOP Senators have opposed any of the more than 200 judicial nominees sent to the Senate by Bush.

No conservative Senator has ever opposed a Bush judicial nominee, so any opposition from Brownback or other Senate conservatives would open up a major divide in what had otherwise been a lock-step union between conservatives on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Brownback invoked a quarter-century-old dictum formulated by then-president Ronald Reagan regarding negotiations with the Soviet Union.

“As President Bush and President Reagan have commented in the past, in this regard I feel we must trust but verify,” Brownback said.

A few other conservative GOP Senators also voiced caution on Miers, doing so in very brief statements that pointedly did not praise her credentials in any way.

“Harriet Miers deserves a fair and thorough hearing and confirmation process. I look forward to learning more about her qualifications and judicial philosophy in the coming days,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

“As the confirmation process begins, I will carefully review Ms. Miers’ qualifications and I look forward to meeting with her personally,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.).