Stunned by conservative opposition to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, President Bush next week will bring in former justices from her home state of Texas to trumpet her qualifications for the nation’s highest court.
The event is part of an administration effort to refine its push for Miers after its initial strategy failed to quiet opposition from members of the president’s own party.
The Republican critics, who suggest Bush passed over candidates with long records of conservative rulings from the bench, say that if the White House strategy continues to amount to a “trust me” message, they’ll continue to grumble.
On Friday, press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly used the words “qualified” and “well-qualified” to defend Miers and say she deserved a fair hearing from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Conservative opponents say emphasizing her resume is part of a new White House tack.
The White House has sought to dampen opposition from the GOP’s right flank by noting that Miers attended an evangelical church in Texas that is almost universally anti-abortion. Earlier this week, the president spoke of how religion is part of her life.
That only inflamed some critics, rubbing against the grain of judicial conservatism _ the idea that judges should strictly interpret the Constitution and that their opinions should not be colored by personal beliefs.
Bush has announced his allegiance to judicial conservatism by saying repeatedly that judges shouldn’t “legislate from the bench.”
McClellan stressed that Miers was “firmly committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws,” but conservative critics have not been persuaded.
The National Pro-Life Action Center on Friday called on Bush to withdraw his “ill-advised” nomination. Gary Bauer, a leading conservative, wrote his supporters on Friday: “The nomination of Harriet Miers has split conservatives unlike anything I can remember. The debate will not end, in fact it will become more intense.”
The conservative National Review magazine said that Miers should withdraw her own nomination and that the White House should “start over.”
The magazine argued that while Miers’ supporters say her conservatism is reflected in her work to pick federal judges, most of that work was completed before she became White House counsel eight months ago. Moreover, the magazine said, claims that she is anti-abortion or an evangelical Christian do not make for a reliable guide to judicial opinions she might write.
“The fact that her supporters have had to resort to such weak defenses and, worse, to pleasant generalities about her kindness to her colleagues and name-calling about her critics’ alleged sexism is perhaps the most distressing evidence that no stronger arguments are available on behalf of this nomination,” the magazine said.
Manuel Miranda, a former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, said White House advisers are meeting next week to regroup and hone their message. The White House did not confirm that such a meeting was scheduled.
“They need to stop what they’re doing _ a series of ham-fisted messages such as pushing the religious issue and suggesting that she’s someone that can be counted on to vote a certain way,” Miranda said. “That gives no comfort to conservatives because the bottom line with conservatives is that she’s uncredentialed.”
On Monday, as senators return from visits to their districts, Bush is hosting a White House event with former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justices John Hill and Thomas Phillips. Miers, meanwhile, will be meeting with more senators next week and is expected to return a 12-page questionnaire to the judiciary panel early next week.
Hill, Phillips and another former Texas Supreme Court chief justice, Joe Greenhill, wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday trumpeting Miers’ credentials.
Some conservatives cautioned against a rush to judgment. Miers deserves a chance to prove herself, said Ronald Cass, dean emeritus of Boston University School of Law and co-chairman of the Committee for Justice, which backs Bush’s nominees for the bench. Cass said, however, that Miers was not his first choice.
“If Miers’ performance at those hearings is not that of a person who seems ready to interpret the Constitution thoughtfully, she will lose my support,” Cass said. “If she comes across as an experienced, intelligent lawyer committed to law-bound judging, then she should gain public support from conservatives now criticizing her nomination _ though the damage to our party at that point might be irreparable.”
In recent days, administration officials have given interviews in defense of Miers. White House chief of staff Andy Card told C-SPAN that Miers has extensive knowledge of constitutional law and said he was surprised that critics “came out of the box so cynically.”
On Fox News, Vice President Dick Cheney told opponents to “keep your powder dry and watch and see how she acquits herself in front of the committee.” He stressed Miers’ experience, saying “This is not somebody who just walked in off the street and we said, ‘Oh, gee, why don’t we go with her?'”