Conservatives wary of Miers
President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to fill the crucial swing seat on the Supreme Court appeared to play out by the book. Senators on both sides of the aisle were consulted. Key conservatives were given a list of three names, including hers, and asked for comment. For the most part, there wasn't any.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Yet when the announcement came, the criticism came from a direction few expected: deep within conservative ranks. And Mr. Bush's efforts this week to reassure his base is making rifts within this highly diverse coalition more apparent.
Social conservatives want assurances that Ms. Miers will share their views on flash-point issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, and that she is genuinely one of them.
Conservative intellectuals, on the other hand, want someone with the legal acumen to roll back the reach of judges.
If Bush's rally cry for Miers is beginning to echo across the megachurches of heartland America, it is falling flat in the urban think tanks that have defined the conservative revolution since the Reagan era. Insiders fear that the grand coalition that helped elect Bush is fracturing on the issue most thought would unite them against the Democrats and liberal interest groups. Instead, they're firing on each other.
"We were looking for somebody who could advance the cause of the right, move the court in our direction, and it takes a certain amount of intellectual power to accomplish that," says Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, one of the first of many conservative think tanks in Washington.
As a longtime conservative leader, he was consulted about the Miers nomination. "I will probably end up supporting her," he adds, "but I can tell you that ... the grass roots are just heartbroken by this nomination."
For social conservative groups, this week's reports that Miers is a genuine evangelical - and, in a conversion experience about the same time, a genuine Republican - may be winning back hearts and minds. After initial hesitation, they are now rallying behind her, albeit tepidly.
Under the radar, supporters pushed the point more aggressively with Christian conservative groups.
An influential blog by Marvin Olasky, a Bush adviser credited with framing the president's "compassionate conservative" agenda, makes the case that a lot about Miers can be learned from her "decade of service in a conservative church," where she taught Sunday School, made coffee, brought doughnuts, and was willing to do whatever needed doing.
She "totally committed her life to Jesus," and tithed 15 percent of her after- tax income to her church. "Nothing she's asked to do in church is beneath her," he writes, citing an interview with Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who attended the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas with Miers. "She's an originalist - that's the way she takes the Bible and that's her approach to the Constitution as well."
Such testimonials aim to convince the faith community that Miers, although not on record in support of their key goals, is one of them and, once on the bench, will show it. After extensive lobbying by the White House, Focus on the Family Action Chairman James Dobson, an opinion leader among many social conservatives, gave some support to the nominee, although with reservations.
"President Bush pledged emphatically during his campaign to appoint judges who will interpret the law rather than create it," he said. "To this point, President Bush's appointments to the federal bench appear to have been remarkably consistent with that stated philosophy," he said in an interview for Focus on the Family's website.
Based on what's generally known about Miers - and Bush's personal knowledge of her - she is not likely to be the lone exception, he added.