WASHINGTON - The White House yesterday released a 57-page questionnaire filled out by Harriet Miers, President Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court, and hundreds of pages of documents in which she revealed in 1989 that she supported a constitutional amendment to ban abortions except to save the life of the mother.
The documents were sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee and immediately unleashed speculation on whether her view from 1989 still holds. The papers guarantee lively sessions when the confirmation hearings begin next month.
Ms. Miers, who is now the White House general counsel and for years a corporate lawyer in Texas before becoming President Bush's personal attorney and chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission, has said nobody knows how she would rule in a case involving abortion rights if she is confirmed.
Senators who have met with her said she won't indicate what her thoughts are now on abortion rights or how she might rule in an abortion case.
But when she was a candidate for Dallas City Council, on which she served for two years, she filled out a one-page questionnaire indicating her support for Texans United for Life. She checked "yes" when asked by the group "if Congress passes a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion except when it was necessary to prevent the death of the mother, would you actively support its ratification by the Texas Legislature?"
She also indicated she would participate in rallies, oppose the use of public funds for abortion, and try to keep "pro-abortion" rights advocates off city commissions and boards, but stipulated "to the extent pro-life views are relevant."
In 1973's Roe vs. Wade decision, the Supreme Court legalized abortions nationwide. The court has since ruled on many cases that states have some latitude in restricting how abortion is handled but so far has forbidden states from banning it.
The issue is becoming one of the most significant and controversial for Ms. Miers: Conservatives want to be reassured she would vote against abortion rights and liberals hope to learn she has an open mind on it.
Ms. Miers would replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has voted for abortion rights.
The one-page document revealing her opinions in 1989 was unsigned. But at a briefing on the documents yesterday at the Justice Department by senior lawyers, reporters were assured she had provided the document to the White House.
In addition to the questionnaire she filled out for the Texas United for Life group, Ms. Miers attended its annual dinner in 1989 and actively but unsuccessfully tried to get the American Bar Association not to take a stand in favor of abortion rights in 1993 without polling its members.
Although the controversy around her opinions and whether she has significant experience in constitutional issues have continued to dominate her meetings with senators, the White House yesterday again expressed confidence she will be confirmed.
Many of Ms. Miers' critics yesterday complained that no documents in the large stacks sent to Capitol Hill involve her White House experience. She was Mr. Bush's staff secretary when he first came to the White House, thus signing off on all documents that went to his desk.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.), senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of her responses overall: "These answers do not help the Senate much in reaching an informed decision about this nomination. In order to conduct a fair and thorough review, the Senate needs information about Ms. Miers, including her experience, her judgment, her views on the Constitution, and her independence.
"So far, these answers heighten, rather than lessen, concerns about whether, as a Supreme Court justice, she would be able to maintain independence from this administration and future administrations. Lack of responsiveness only adds to the burden she will have in the hearings."
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.), a member of the committee, said the questions she was asked were "bipartisan and reasonable, but the answers are disappointing, spare, and unilluminating."
Mr. Bush said during a press conference earlier this month that he would not permit documents she has worked on during her tenure at the White House to be released.
Thus, much of the material given to the Senate Judiciary Committee to review involves routine and mundane records of Dallas City Council and American Bar Association meetings.
In one of her most famous cases, she represented Microsoft on whether a class-action suit against the company - charging a defective software program deleted data - violated Microsoft's due-process rights.
The plaintiffs dismissed the case.
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