Senator gives Miers clue to questions she'll face

Judiciary chairman emphasizes issue of independence from president

October 27, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee warned Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers yesterday that members will ask whether she would act independently of President Bush.

Issues of executive power will surface in confirmation hearings "in light of your close relationship with the president and the key positions you have held in the White House," Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, wrote in a letter to Miers.

Hearings are scheduled to start Nov. 7.

The nominee, meanwhile, continued private meetings with senators, including a Louisiana Republican who issued a less-than-enthusiastic comment afterward.

"As we proceed toward the U.S. Senate hearings for her confirmation, I expect she will provide more information about her life's work," said Sen. David Vitter. "I'll need to see this objective evidence prior to making my decision."

Miers also finished responding to a revised questionnaire submitted last week by Specter and the committee's top Democrat, Patrick J. Leahy. Both said Miers' first response inadequately outlined her experience and dealings with the president.

Specter's latest letter comes as various senators and the White House spar over access to documents from Miers' work as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff and counsel to the president.

Bush made clear that he would not release documents that impinge on confidential White House discussions, calling that a "red line" he would not cross.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat, said "a $64,000 question" surrounds the nomination: "Who is Harriet Miers in terms of her judicial philosophy, legal reasoning? And basically, we have no idea."

In one of 10 questions Specter posed to Miers, he asked, "What standard would you apply, if confirmed, in recusing yourself on any subject where you have advised the president?" Mindful of attorney-client privilege, he said he was not asking her to discuss advice she has given Bush.

Another question: "What assurances can you give the Senate and the American people that you will be independent, if confirmed, and not give President Bush any special deference on any matter involving him which might come before the court?"

The right to detain prisoners of war indefinitely, such as those at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, is another topic likely to surface at hearings, Specter wrote.

The Judiciary Committee chairman asked the nominee about war-making authority, specifically whether the Vietnam and Korean conflicts should have included congressional declarations of war.

Miers faces resistance from conservatives who believe she is unqualified. Some have created organizations with names such as Americans for Better Justice and WithdrawMiers.org.

Some conservative Republican senators have also raised other questions.

Vitter called her "forthcoming and engaging" during their meeting, but, "my central question still remains to be answered."

"Is there objective, written evidence from prior to her nomination that fully shows that she has a truly consistent and well-grounded conservative judicial philosophy?" he asked.

The New York Times, in a survey this week, listed a number of Republicans who are unsure about the Miers nomination, such as Norm Coleman of Minnesota and John Thune of South Dakota.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan offered a different take: "You're seeing a lot of members of the Senate saying, "We want to hear what she has to say in the hearings,' before they make a judgment."

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