Bush defends court nominee

Despite assurances, both sides press for more information


WASHINGTON -- President Bush defended his Supreme Court nominee yesterday, essentially saying that his conservative supporters should trust his judgment that longtime friend and close adviser Harriet E. Miers would be the type of justice he has promised to promote.

After Miers received a response from conservatives Monday that ranged from tepid to scathing, Bush appeared at a Rose Garden news conference - his first since May - to try to ease the concerns percolating among some of his most ardent supporters.

"I know her character; she's a woman of principle and deep conviction," Bush said. "She shares my philosophy that judges should strictly interpret the laws and the Constitution of the United States and not legislate from the bench."

Bush said that Miers knows the kind of judge he is looking for - having participated in the process that produced Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. - and that he appointed her because her thinking about the law won't change over time.

He dismissed questions, raised on both sides after the announcement, about whether Miers would have been tapped for the court if she were not part of Bush's inner circle as White House counsel.

"I picked the best person I could find," Bush said. "People know we're close. But you got to understand, because of our closeness, I know the character of the person."

Miers, 60, was a corporate litigator who rose to co-managing partner of a Dallas law firm and is a former president of the Texas Bar Association. She has served as Bush's personal lawyer, chaired the Texas Lottery Commission when he was that state's governor, and followed him to Washington in 2001. She was named White House counsel in February.

But Miers has no experience as a judge and almost no paper trail, a combination that has liberals and conservatives alike trying to guess what her role on the court would be like.

Miers met with three Republican senators yesterday, all members of the Judiciary Committee, which will consider her nomination before sending it to the full Senate for a final vote. One, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, said unequivocally that he would support her. The other two were positive about Miers, but said they wanted to know more.

And one of the staunchest social conservatives in the Senate - Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas - expressed skepticism yesterday, after remaining conspicuously silent about the nomination Monday. A potential candidate for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Brownback voted for Roberts last week but said during the confirmation process that he was uneasy about where Roberts would come down on key issues such as abortion rights.

Yesterday, his comments about Miers were even more circumspect.

"I have said in the past that I would like a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans and whose judicial philosophy is well-formed," he said. "I am not yet confident that Ms. Miers has a proven track record."

But Hatch said he ultimately expected all 55 Republican senators, and a number of Democrats, to support Miers. Sixty votes are needed to stop a filibuster, a parliamentary stalling tactic Democrats have used several times during Bush's tenure to stymie judicial nominees.

"A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don't know her as I do," Hatch said. "It's a conservative president who has nominated her, and he has said she is everything he wanted on the court. And I think they ought to take him at his word."

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative interest group, said he wanted to trust Bush, but that trust needs verification.

"This is such an important nomination that for us to embrace this nominee, and work to see this nominee confirmed, we've got to see some evidence to back up these statements of support," Perkins said.

The grassroots organizers took Bush at his word and expected this nomination to be an easily identifiable conservative, Perkins said.

"Instead, you've got someone who, on the first day out, is encircled by Republicans and Democrats, holding hands and singing `Kumbaya,'" he said.

Perkins was referring to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who greeted Miers' nomination kindly Monday, saying he was pleased that Bush had tapped someone outside the community of sitting judges. Yesterday, Reid continued to praise Miers but emphasized that while he had suggested her to the president as a worthy replacement for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that does not mean he would vote for her.

"I am grateful that the president took account of my views. But let me make clear that I have not endorsed this nomination," Reid said. "It would be entirely premature of me to do so."

Bush made it clear that he would be unlikely to entertain requests to release documents written by Miers during her time in the White House, calling the issue "a distraction" and emphasizing the importance of maintaining the privacy of work done within the inner circles of the administration.

The fight over documents was a theme of Roberts' confirmation process, with Democrats demanding more information about his time as a government lawyer and the administration refusing to release it.

Hatch acknowledged that her Miers' confirmation hearings would be vital because her career until now gives senators so little to go on.

"The hearings are going to be very important, because she's going to have to answer a lot of questions about judicial philosophy," he said.


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