Specter rebukes conservatives

Judiciary panel chair decries `lynch mob' attack of Miers


WASHINGTON -- Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offered an unusual defense yesterday of Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers, saying her critics had put together "one of the toughest lynch mobs" he had ever seen.

"What you've had here on Harriet Miers is not a rush to judgment. It's a stampede to judgment," Specter said on the ABC News' This Week.

Miers was being attacked by "one of the toughest lynch mobs ever assembled in Washington, D.C., and we really assemble some tough lynch mobs," said Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican.

Specter's remarks amounted to a tacit rebuke of conservatives. And it was tinged with irony because last year conservatives delayed his ascension to the Judiciary Committee's helm because they were concerned he might not be sufficiently steadfast in supporting President Bush's future Supreme Court choices. Specter favors abortion rights and has promoted embryonic stem cell research, positions that have angered many conservatives.

Bush nominated Miers last week to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The nomination of Miers, Bush's White House counsel and formerly his personal lawyer in Texas, provoked charges of cronyism, as well as concerns among religious conservatives that she might be too moderate on social issues such as abortion rights.

Specter stopped short of saying whether he would support Miers, and expressed concern about her limited experience with issues of constitutional law. As a lawyer in Texas, she mainly focused on business disputes.

Specter said he would question Miers about her qualifications and her views on issues, including the role of precedent in the judicial process, when the Judiciary Committee takes up the nomination. He said it would be inappropriate to ask Miers whether she would uphold Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Miers' supporters continued to paint her as a conservative who has an open mind and would approach legal problems on a case-by-case basis.

The Senate Republican whip, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, predicted "rock solid" support for Miers among Senate Republicans. "I haven't sensed any discontent of any consequence," he said on CNN's Late Edition.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, a longtime friend of Miers who has been speaking in her behalf over the past week with the White House's support, said that while Miers had long opposed abortion she would set aside her personal views when deciding cases. "Legal issues and personal issues are just two different things," Hecht said on Fox News Sunday.

But Gary L. Bauer, head of the advocacy group American Values and a critic of the nomination, said on the same program that conservatives would be disappointed if that were the case. "If he wants to reassure his fellow pro-life conservatives, that's the last argument he should be making," Bauer said.

Other conservatives condemned the selection, saying that Bush had missed an opportunity to steer the court firmly to the right with a replacement for O'Connor, who has been the swing vote in cases before the court that are of profound interest to social conservatives.

But Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention said he trusts Bush. "He picked a person he's known for 15 years, and I believe he picked her because he knows her that well and he knows that she will vote the way he would want her to vote," Land said on NBC's Meet the Press, adding that "given the right case," he believes Miers would vote to overturn Roe.

Democrats expressed concern about reports that the White House might have obtained assurances from Miers that she would take anti-abortion rights and other conservative positions if she were confirmed, and they announced plans to investigate as part of the confirmation process.

Conservative activist James Dobson, head of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based advocacy group Focus on the Family and a supporter of Miers after initial misgivings, has said that he had conversations with White House adviser Karl Rove about Miers and has said that he knows things about her "that I probably shouldn't know."

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Dobson should be called as a witness during hearings on Miers' nomination. "I think Karl Rove ought to let the public know what kind of assurances he gave James Dobson. This is not a game of wink and whisper," Schumer said on CBS's Face the Nation.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Miers told him that she gave no assurances on how she would decide Roe v. Wade. But he said that if any such guarantees were given, it would doom the nomination.

Richard Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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