Miers' 2nd chance could be her last

Senators want more information about the Supreme Court nominee, and today is her opportunity to provide it.

Published October 26, 2005

WASHINGTON - After being roundly criticized for submitting an incomplete questionnaire to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers gets a second chance today.

Her new submission, due to the committee by the end of the day, will be important in determining whether she gets confirmed. Her nomination has not generated much enthusiasm in the Senate and could be in jeopardy if senators aren't satisfied with her second batch of answers.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the "unprecedented" request for more answers shows both parties are skeptical about Miers.

"Both Republicans and Democrats want thorough answers," said Leahy. "Without them, it could be a very, very long hearing."

The loudest opposition to Miers continues to come from conservative activists who wanted a nominee with a more established record than that of Miers, a Dallas lawyer now serving as White House counsel. They say President Bush missed an opportunity to appoint a conservative ideologue who could be an influential force on the nation's highest court.

Two groups have started Web sites urging Bush to withdraw her nomination. One of them will begin running a TV ad today. It begins, "Even the best leaders make mistakes. . . ."

The White House has shown no interest in withdrawing the nomination. President Bush has said he won't release internal documents written by Miers as a presidential aide, which puts him on a collision course with senators from both parties who want more information about her work.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the White House needs to provide documents that show Miers' constitutional approach. "The record is pretty thin right now," he said, adding that "on overall judicial philosophy, she's really got to raise the comfort level around here."

Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that Republican senators have "a good bit of concern about the selection" and that the White House "ought to give all the documents they can that give us a better feel for her ability, her decisiveness, her competence."

Polls show Miers with tepid public support, far less than John Roberts had at a similar point after he was nominated for chief justice.

"Miers is not someone that anyone is getting excited over," said Frank Luntz, a Republican strategist.

Luntz said Bush made a mistake by calling her the best person he could find. (Luntz quoted comedian Bill Maher saying Miers "was the most qualified person . . . within 20 feet of his office.") He said Bush also erred by citing Miers' religion to win support from religious conservatives.

"Do you see anybody standing up saying this is an amazing person?" Luntz asked. "Do you see anybody juiced?"

The most obvious signs of energy are found among the opposition.

Americans for Better Justice (www.BetterJustice.com) a group organized by former Bush speech writer David Frum and several other prominent conservatives, has an online petition that says, "An attempt to push her nomination through the Senate will only split the Republican Party, damage the Bush presidency, and cast doubts upon the court itself."

The group's TV ad, which will begin airing on the Fox News Channel today, quotes former Judge Robert Bork and radio host Rush Limbaugh against the nomination.

Another site, www.WithdrawMiers.org was set up by conservative groups that include the Center for a Just Society.

Ken Connor, a former candidate for governor of Florida and chairman of the Center for a Just Society, said Bush could have chosen a better candidate.

"This is a nomination that was launched with little momentum, and the momentum is decreasing by the day," Connor said.

Questionnaires for judicial nominees usually are formalities that attract little attention. But Miers' responses frustrated senators from both parties because she gave brief answers to many questions.

A week ago, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, along with Leahy, sent her a stern letter demanding more information for nine of the 28 questions. The two also made a sweeping request for lists of documents she wrote or supervised while "in any public office, including your various positions at the Dallas Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas, the American Bar Association or any of your positions in the White House."

That request and others the senators might make in the next few weeks could set up a scenario that columnist Charles Krauthammer calls a face-saving solution for the White House.

Bush could claim he does not want to release sensitive internal documents, while senators insist the documents are critical to their deliberations. Miers could then withdraw.

Washington bureau chief Bill Adair can be reached at 202 463-0575 or adair@sptimes.com