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Specter Cool to Miers’ Response

Senators Seek More Answers

In a rebuke of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on Wednesday issued a bipartisan demand that she be more forthcoming in her responses to the panel’s questionnaire, signaling that her confirmation proceedings could last into December.

Specter, along with Judiciary ranking member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), sent Miers a letter asking her to more thoroughly respond to the questionnaire, saying he considered the version she delivered Monday as “not really being completed.”

The Pennsylvania Republican specifically cited the number of cases she’s handled as a lawyer — eight that went to full trial, four of which she served as lead counsel, according to her responses — and said his committee had independently obtained more records on more of her cases than Miers herself provided to the panel.

“No reason we should know more about her cases than she does,” Specter said.

It was Specter’s second public disagreement this week with the nominee, who previously had been taking fire mainly from conservative critics while the centrist committee chairman had defended her or at least remained neutral. The first dispute between the two came after he met with Miers for 100 minutes Monday afternoon and, in an effort to defend Miers afterwards, Specter told reporters the nominee had said the Griswold v. Connecticut case was “rightly decided” and would not likely have to come before the Supreme Court again.

Conservatives were somewhat upset with Chief Justice John Roberts when he took a similar position on the case, which allowed for consenting adults to practice contraception in their sex lives, because Griswold is considered one of the building blocks in privacy rulings that led to the landmark abortion rights ruling in Roe v. Wade.

After Specter’s remarks were reported that evening, Miers called to dispute the position, saying she took no stance on Griswold.

The chairman accepted that, but stood by his initial remarks and has said he would not discuss the specifics of what was said in their meeting, promising to raise it during hearings slated to begin Nov. 7.

But the matter has remained irksome to Specter, who on Wednesday cited the need to move quickly to hearings, noting wryly that it would provide a venue “where we have a stenographer.”

He said Wednesday that in the 11 previous Supreme Court nominations he’d been involved in as a Senator, a dispute of this nature had never occurred with a nominee.

“I’ve never walked out of a room and had a disagreement over what was said,” Specter said.

In another blow to Miers, Specter said there has been no certain time set for when the nomination would be moved out of the committee and onto the floor for a final vote, a stark contrast to the Roberts hearings. Prior to those hearings last month, Specter, Leahy, Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reached an agreement that the committee would dispose of hearings and its recommendation on Roberts within two weeks of the hearings’ start, with a floor vote set for before the end of September.

“We may not finish before Thanksgiving,” Specter said of the committee’s proceedings on Miers.

“We are planning on having Thanksgiving in Washington,” Leahy said of his family’s own holiday scheduling.

This week was supposed to mark a fresh re-launch of the Miers nomination for the White House, which was caught off-guard by conservative opposition to her centered on the Bush loyalist’s lack of a record on key legal issues.

Some information has been unearthed this week that might have helped settle some nerves on the right, particularly a 1989 questionnaire Miers filled out as part of her successful bid for Dallas City Council, in which she backed a federal constitutional amendment in support of a ban on abortion.

But that has not completely dampened the ire of conservatives, who were hoping for a nominee with a detailed legal record on hot-button issues. So far, they complain that they have been told only that she’s an Evangelical Christian, gave $150 to a Texas-based anti-abortion group and supported a federal ban on abortion while running for a local office that had no federal oversight of the procedure.

Some conservatives, including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), had even raised the idea of holding off starting hearings on Nov. 7 in order to get all the information possible on Miers.

“I want to do a thorough job,” Brownback said. “I’m willing to look at extending that.”

But Specter rejected any delay in beginning the hearings, in part because there have been so many questions among activists about Miers’ positions and several different conference calls among the activists attempting to measure support for her.

Specter said the committee needs to “take the proceedings away from the backrooms, the conference calls.”

If conservatives remain reticent about supporting her nomination, Miers will have to win over Specter, a key barometer of support among centrists in both parties, or her prospects for confirmation would drop precipitously.

Democrats were outraged by what they considered a lack of cooperation from Miers on her questionnaire, with Leahy saying reactions ranged from Senators calling her responses “incomplete to insulting.”

Specter declined to say that it was insulting, but the Specter-Leahy letter spelled out nine areas of the committee questionnaire that the chairman and ranking member felt she had given insufficient attention.

The demands from Specter and Leahy included seeking a further explanation as to how she was suspended from the D.C. Bar, asking the nominee to provide items such as canceled checks or correspondence to back up her assertion that she accidentally failed to pay her bar dues. In addition, the Senators asked her to provide any “policy position documents or questionnaires you filled out while running for Dallas City Council,” an effort to assure there aren’t other memos that will become public from her two-year stint on that council.

If Miers’ nomination gets back on track and garners anything near the same level of support Roberts gained, Specter said he envisioned a timeline for confirmation that would be even quicker than the chief justice’s process.

After a day of opening statements on Nov. 7, Miers would appear before the panel the next two days for questions and answers, with witnesses set to appear the following day or two. On Nov. 15, the committee would vote on its recommendation for Miers, and the nomination would be sent to the full floor the next day for debate — with a final vote likely before Thanksgiving.

But, Specter said there has been nothing easy about this nomination, which was just 16 days old as of Wednesday.

“It seems like a year-and-a-half ago for all that’s happened,” he said.