Dan Coats Tackles a Big Job

After his first day on Supreme Court nominee duty, former Indiana Sen. Dan Coats said opposition from conservative Republicans “doesn’t make (my job) any easier, I can tell you that.”

Coats, who was a consistent opponent of abortion and gay rights when he was in Congress, was chosen Thursday to guide White House Counsel Harriet Miers through the confirmation process in the Senate.

If confirmed, Miers will replace Sandra Day O’Connor, the swing vote on many of the court’s 5-4 decisions, including a ruling that upheld affirmative action in university admissions. O’Connor ruled that states cannot place an undue burden on women’s ability to have abortions. She also agreed with the majority that sodomy laws were unconstitutional.

Coats said there are a fairly small number of Republican senators who question the president’s choice, but they are influential.

“You know, there’s a real irony here,” he said. The same senators who urged Chief Justice John Roberts not to answer Democrats’ questions on how he would vote, and said it was not right of them to ask, are saying: “‘Wait a minute, I don’t think I can support her unless she tells me how she would vote.’

“You can’t have it both ways,” he said.

On both the right and the left, the future of legal abortion was the question on everyone’s mind.

Coats, who has been working as a lobbyist since leaving his job as Ambassador to Germany, was in the Senate during the Clarence Thomas nomination battle, as well as the calmer confirmations of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

“Frankly, the process was different then,” he said. “There was a presumption the president had the right to fill vacancies for the Supreme Court unless there was something totally egregious. It wasn’t nearly as ideologically driven.”

Coats’ job for the next month or so _ it is a volunteer position _ is to advise Miers on the Senators’ interests and personalities, to sit in on meetings with her and to serve as her spokesman and advocate.

It is not to coach her on how to tailor her answers to the Senators, he said.

“That kind of thing catches up with you in a hurry.”

Coats scolded those who have questioned Miers’ intellectual qualifications for the job.

“People have jumped to conclusions based on a resume that they don’t think added up” to the nominees they had in mind, he said. If they give her a chance, they will come to “the same conclusion I have come to. She’s a very qualified individual.”

Critics say the president’s pick should have come up from an appeals court, or have a distinguished body of writings on constitutional law.

“Well, we have eight of those on the court,” he said. “Who’s to say a lifetime of judgeship is the only preparation somebody can have for this post?”

(E-mail leem(at)shns.com or visit www.shns.com.)