Who Did in Harriet Miers: Opposition from Religious Right Far Right Leaders Fells Bush High Court Nominee

By Leaming, Jeremy | Church & State, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Who Did in Harriet Miers: Opposition from Religious Right Far Right Leaders Fells Bush High Court Nominee


Leaming, Jeremy, Church & State


Harriet Miers, President George W. Bush's second pick for the Supreme Court, was already withering under great skepticism and criticism from the far right when an Oct. 26 Washington Post report sparked further shock waves.

The front-page story reported on a 1993 speech Miers delivered to a group called the Executive Women of Dallas. As The Post put it, "Miers appeared to offer a libertarian view of several topics in which the law and religious beliefs were colliding in court." She endorsed "self-determination" on issues such as abortion and school prayer.

Remarked Miers during the speech, "The ongoing debate continues surrounding the attempt to once again criminalize abortions or to once and for all guarantee the freedom of the individual to decide for herself whether she will have an abortion."

Miers went on to assert "we gave up ... legislating religion or morality." She added, "When science cannot determine the facts and decisions vary based upon religious belief, then government should not act."

This was heresy to the Religious Right, and its leaders--many of whom had been wobbly on Miers from the beginning--promptly went on the attack.

"This is very disturbing," wrote Family Research Council President Tony Perkins on the group's Web site. "Miss Miers' words are a close paraphrase of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision. Her use of terms like criminalize abortion to characterize the pro-life position and guarantee freedom to describe the pro-choice position should have sounded alarms in the White House during the vetting process."

Continued Perkins, "When we defend the right to life, we hearken back to the Declaration of Independence, not to some strictly sectarian view. Science has long ago answered the question of when human life begins. The constitutional and legal question is whether we are going to defend innocent human life from lethal assault. This speech raises very troubling questions about Miss Miers' views of constitutional matters."

Jerry Falwell acolyte Mat Stayer of the Liberty Counsel told The Post, "This is going to be very disturbing to conservatives because I think it shows that she is a judicial activist. This concept of self-determination could clearly be read in support for things like abortion or same-sex marriage, and it's a philosophy that cuts a judge loose from the Constitution."

Concerned Women for America (CWA), a Religious Right group that frequently attacks church-state separation, demanded that Miers withdraw. "We find several aspects troubling, particularly her views on abortion and a woman's 'self-determination,' quotas, feminism and the role of judges as social activists," said Jan LaRue, CWA's chief counsel, in the conservative Washington Times newspaper. "We do not believe that our concerns will be satisfied during her hearing."

On Oct. 27, Miers removed her name from consideration for the high court. Her withdrawal brought to an end a strange saga that saw a rare split among Bush's far-right base. When Bush announced her nomination Oct. 3, two high-profile Religious Right figures, James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family and TV preacher Pat Robertson, were enthusiastic right off the bat. Reaction from other Religious Right leaders and members of the secular right, was much more muted.

Bush apparently thought he could push Miers through by nailing down the most powerful Religious Right groups. Thus, he reached out early to Dobson, Robertson and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).

Just before the announcement, Dobson got a personal phone call from Karl Rove, Bush's top political adviser, who assured the powerful religious broadcaster that Miers would prove to be a justice the Religious Right would be mighty pleased with.

According to Dobson, Rove said, "Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life, that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life.

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