Schumer Questions Miers’ Knowledge of Cases

Posted October 17, 2005 at 6:37pm

As White House allies sought to shore up support within their conservative base, some Democrats began to more forcefully question Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers over her qualifications for a lifetime seat on the bench.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) emerged from a lengthy meeting with Miers and declared that she appeared to be unable to answer questions about some fundamental cases of constitutional law relating to privacy.

Schumer, a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Miers declined to answer questions regarding a pair of landmark rulings: the ‘Griswold’ case of 1965, which allowed consenting adults to use contraception, and the ‘Meyer’ case from 1923, which allowed for parents and teachers to educate children in a private manner regarding foreign languages.

The Senator said it wasn’t clear whether Miers knew what the Meyer case was, merely stating that she wasn’t ready or willing to answer detailed questions regarding constitutional law yet.

“She didn’t say anything that indicated she was” aware of Meyer, Schumer said. “She didn’t say anything that indicated she wasn’t.”

After first suggesting that she indicated a need to “bone up” on constitutional law, Schumer said the more appropriate phrase was that Miers indicated a need to “come to conclusions” about important cases and their ramifications.

“There’s so little there, there was so little information exchanged,” Schumer said generally of his initial discussions with Miers.

But Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who also met Monday with Miers, said that the nominee did answer questions on privacy issues in his meeting, calling the Griswold case “rightly decided.” Specter said he knows more about Miers at this point than he did about Roberts.

Schumer asked for another meeting with her, a courtesy likely to be granted by the White House, considering that the New York Democrat received three such meetings with Chief Justice John Roberts during his confirmation process.

So far in this nomination process, Democrats have held their fire and instead allowed the White House to fend off criticism from conservatives, many of whom have pounced on the Miers pick for her lack of a record on some of the biggest legal issues of the day.

But Schumer’s comments suggested that Democrats may now begin to speak out more forcefully. The New York Democrat said Miers was no match for Roberts when one compares their initial meetings, saying the now-chief justice was “far more illuminating” and able to handle questions about the two privacy cases.

“He was direct on both, and said they were settled law,” Schumer said.

With Congress back from its recess this week, the White House is hoping to essentially reintroduce Miers as someone whose stellar legal background makers her the right nominee for the slot.

In particular, White House officials are trying to convince skeptical conservatives that Miers meets the qualifications necessary for the job.

To that end, Progress for America, the interest group closely affiliated with the White House, launched an online ad campaign targeted specifically at conservative activists. The ads began appearing Monday on the Web sites most commonly read by conservatives, including the Washington Times, Weekly Standard, National Review and about 20 to 30 conservative blogs.

At $10,000, the ad buy is relatively small according to Jessia Boulanger of Progress for America, but she added that in online venues, that much money can generate a large number of page views. The ads link to a quiz game that tries to show how Miers’ legal background is not that far out of step with Supreme Court nominees of the past 50 years.

But every step the White House takes toward shoring up conservative support risks causing the nominee trouble among Democratic Senators.

Schumer, for instance, raised the prospect of calling as witnesses two Texas judges, Nathan Hecht of the state’s Supreme Court and U.S. Judge Ed Kinkeade.

Those two longtime friends of Miers participated in a conference call of conservative leaders on Oct. 3, the day the nomination was announced. According to an op-ed by Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, the two judges assured conservative leaders that Miers would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Miers disavowed any predisposition on the abortion case, and specifically denied that anyone would know her feelings on the issue, said Schumer, whose aides wrote down verbatim her reply to that issue: “No one knows how I will rule on Roe v. Wade.”