Magazine article The Christian Century

Bush Courts Evangelicals for Nominee Support

Magazine article The Christian Century

Bush Courts Evangelicals for Nominee Support

Article excerpt

BEFORE JOHN ROBERTS was approved by the U.S. Senate as chief justice, backers of the federal judge, an active Catholic, warned that the nominee should not be put to an unconstitutional "religious test" in evaluations of his suitability. But soon after President Bush on October 3 nominated Harriet Miers, a prominent Texas lawyer and his White House counsel, for another vacancy on the Court, her membership in a pro-life evangelical church in Dallas was cited as a strong sign of her philosophy.

The president's chief political adviser, Karl Rove, lined up support from leading evangelicals such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson and the Southern Baptists' Richard Land. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the Pat Robertson--founded American Center for Law and Justice, supported Miers, as did Christian right figures Charles Colson and Tony Perkins.

But a number of conservative political commentators, as well as key GOP senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, demurred, voicing disappointment in Miers's inexperience in constitutional law and the lack of a paper trail to gauge her views. Some portrayed Bush's tendency to promote loyal insiders as "cronyism."

By October 10, Concerned Women for America, a large conservative organization based in Washington, announced that it had "learned nothing new that allows us to endorse her." "While we share Miss Miers's evangelical faith," said CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue, "we find the continual emphasis on it by her supporters to be inappropriate and patronizing. It offends the Constitution."

Meanwhile, Dobson, long vocal about the White House owing religious conservatives an antiabortion judge on the Court, was saying that his backing for Meirs was based on information from Rove that he should not share. That comment brought threats from U.S. senators to make him testify at confirmation hearings.

At Rove's urging, Dobson explained on his October 11 radio program that Rove had never assured him Miers would vote to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. Dobson said Rove merely told him that "she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life."

The confidential part of his conversations with Rove, Dobson said, was that Miers topped a short list of candidates the day before Bush decided on her. In addition, "what Karl told me is that some of those individuals took themselves off that list" because the political process had become so vitriolic and bitter.

In one interview, Bush suggested that opposition to Miers arose from the fact she came from outside the "judicial monastery." Speaking to journalists briefly in the Oval Office on October 12, Bush said people want to know Miers's background. "They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions," he said. "And part of Harriet Miers's life is her religion."

Issuing a news release reacting to the president's remarks, Patrick Mahoney, director of the conservative Christian Defense Coalition, said, "You cannot have it both ways. Groups and leaders cannot say religion is off limits during the Roberts confirmation and then promote religion during the Miers confirmation for the sole purpose of political gain."

A longtime friend of Miers, Texas Supreme Court justice Nathan Hecht was encouraged very early by the White House to give interviews about her. …

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