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Questions for Harriet Miers

October 19, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter said today it was tough scheduling Harriet Miers’ confirmation hearing because the Supreme Court nominee has given the senators so little to work with.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: It has not been easy coming to a date because it was only yesterday that we received a response to the questionnaire and Senator Leahy and I took a look at it and agreed that it was insufficient and are sending back a detailed letter asking for amplification on many, many of the items.

But my final thought was if we don’t start we’re not going to finish. We may not finish before Thanksgiving. We’re going to have to take whatever time we need. We do not have much paperwork. We do not have much of a record. And there are going to be requests to have very extensive lines of questioning.

MARGARET WARNER: The ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy, also sounded frustrated by the 57-page response Miers submitted yesterday to the committee’s questionnaire on her legal and political career.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: The answer to the questionnaire came up was, the comments I’ve heard, range from incomplete to insulting. Certainly it was inadequate. And it did not give us enough to prepare for a hearing. We will need to have more.

If the questions are not answered or if they’re answered as incomplete as they have been, then it’s going to be a long hearing indeed.

MARGARET WARNER: Both senators also decried the current campaign by White House supporters to reassure social conservatives through meetings and conference calls that Miers shares their views on hot button issues like abortion.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I think it’s been a chaotic process, very candidly, as to what has happened because of all of the conference calls and all of the discussions which are alleged in the back room.

There’s been more controversy before this nominee has uttered a formal word than I have ever heard. That’s what I’m referring to. I mean, we’re conducting inquiries into collateral matters like what’s on the — who’s on the conference call? And who said what to whom? And I read in the Post yesterday that one of the individuals was adamant because there was no guarantee as to how she was going to vote on Roe. I never heard the likes of that.

The core of judicial independence is not knowing how they’re going to vote. The word guarantee was used. It sounds as if you’re buying a washing machine.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I want to make sure she’s going to be an independent justice. She’s going to be independent of the White House. Some are saying, well, we can be sure she’ll vote just the way the president wants her to. Nobody should have assurances — I don’t care if it’s a Democratic president or a Republican president — that the nominee is going to vote the way they may want.

MARGARET WARNER: Leahy and Specter further agreed that many of her private interviews with senators have been unsatisfying because Miers said so little about her judicial philosophy and at times appears to contradict herself or the representations being made by her supporters. Leahy recounted his meeting with Miers in which he tried to nail down whether she had made any promises on how she’d rule on abortion.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I asked her and re-asked her and re-asked her because I said I was going to report it to the press and I wanted to make absolutely sure I had it clear from her: Had she given or had she authorized anyone to give private assurances to anybody about how she would vote? She said no on both accounts.

I intend to re-raise that question again of course because there continues to be — at least if the news accounts are accurate or actually some of the transcripts I’ve seen are accurate — these private assurances seem to be or continue to be given by some.

MARGARET WARNER: Specter expressed concern over his conversation with her about the 1965 Supreme Court ruling establishing a right to privacy. He had told reporters she agreed with the so-called Griswold decision but hours later she said Specter had misunderstood her.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I’ve never walked out of a room and had a disagreement as to what was said. And as I’ve said publicly, I accept her version. And the only answer to avoiding that is not to say anything.

And people want to know about her and about what these conversations are and our practice, I think uniformly is not to say everything but to say some of the things which are appropriate.

And that’s one of the risks you run. And the sooner we get into a hearing room where there is a stenographer and a public record, the better off the process is.

MARGARET WARNER: Late today the two senators sent a letter to Miers seeking extensive additional information on everything from cases she’s handled to groups she’s belonged to work she’s done on constitutional issues at the White House. They’ve asked Miers to reply by next Wednesday.