October 19, 2005 in Nation/World

Miers once backed ban on abortion

James Kuhnhenn and Stephen Henderson Knight Ridder
 
Associated Press photo

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers meets with senators on Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol.
(Full-size photo)

WASHINGTON – In 1989, Harriet Miers endorsed amending the U.S. Constitution to ban abortion except when necessary to save the life of the woman.

Evidence of that stand by President Bush’s latest nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court emerged Tuesday from background papers provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

But in separate written answers for the committee, Miers also conveyed views that raise questions about whether she would now vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which permits abortions, or let it stand as settled precedent.

The mixed messages further confused senators on Miers’ stance and raised the stakes for her performance next month during confirmation hearings.

Miers took the anti-abortion stance during her campaign for Dallas City Council in answers to a questionnaire from the anti-abortion group Texans United for Life. Miers checked “yes” to a number of questions supporting the anti-abortion agenda, including whether she would support a constitutional amendment.

Yet in her written answers to the Judiciary Committee, Miers said that believing a previous case was wrongly decided isn’t reason enough to cast it aside.

“The court must also consider other factors, such as whether the prior decision has proven unworkable, whether developments in the law have undermined the precedent, and whether legitimate reliance interests militate against overruling,” she wrote.

Her response echoed Chief Justice John G. Roberts’ cautious language during his confirmation hearings, but it raised some Senate conservatives’ eyebrows.

“If a decision is wrong, it ought to be reversed, in my way of thinking,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., a Judiciary Committee member.

Others appeared reassured by her 1989 answers.

“I took some comfort in that,” said Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a Judiciary Committee member who’s raised the most reservations about her nomination.

“It’s a very strong pro-life position,” added Sen. George Allen, R-Va., who also has been slow to support Miers.

The White House, aware that the abortion issue helps with conservatives but could turn away moderate Republicans and many Democrats, navigated carefully on Miers’ abortion position.

“The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political office holder,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “And what she was doing in that questionnaire was expressing her views during the course of a campaign. The role of a judge is to apply the law in a fair and open-minded way.”

Democrats and abortion-rights groups, which generally had remained silent about Miers, reacted with some alarm Tuesday.

“This raises very serious concerns about her ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary Committee. “It will be my intention to question her very carefully about these issues.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Miers’ answers were incomplete.

“So far, these answers heighten, rather than lessen, concerns about whether, as a Supreme Court justice, she would be able to maintain independence from this administration and future administrations,” he said.

The latest revelations about Miers’ views on abortion came a day after some confusion on the question involving Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Specter initially told reporters Monday that Miers told him during a meeting that there is a right to privacy in the Constitution and that the Supreme Court had properly decided Griswold v. Connecticut, a 1965 precedent-setting case that established the legal foundation of privacy for Roe.

But Miers called Specter on Monday evening and told him he’d misunderstood her and that she didn’t have a view on the privacy questions.

Specter said Tuesday that he intended to pursue that issue with Miers during her confirmation hearings.

“My recollection of our meeting differs from what Ms. Miers’ recollection is,” Specter said Tuesday. “The fair thing to do is what I have done and that is to accept her statement. I may meet with her on other subjects but not on this conversation. She’s had it. I’ve had it.”


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