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Miers Called an Opponent of Abortion

Times Staff Writers

Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers is personally opposed to abortion, her longtime companion said Tuesday, but he added that doesn’t mean she will vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

Nathan L. Hecht, a Texas Supreme Court justice, has been a close companion of Miers since they first worked together for a Dallas law firm 30 years ago. His comments are the clearest indication to date of Miers’ view on abortion -- which, as with other issues she would be likely to face on the high court, is unknown.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Feb. 15, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday February 15, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Miers’ nomination -- An article in Section A on Oct. 5 about Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers’ views on abortion said that if confirmed, Miers would replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who cast the decisive fifth vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade in 1992. Although O’Connor did vote with the majority, the vote considered decisive at the time was the one cast by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who switched sides and voted to preserve the basic right to abortion.

Hecht is known as the most conservative member of the conservative Texas Supreme Court. “He’s sort of the [Antonin] Scalia of that court: smart, aggressive and very conservative,” said University of Texas law professor Douglas Laycock.

Hecht, a vocal opponent of the abortion right, said in an interview Tuesday that Miers shared his views. The two attend the evangelical Valley View Christian Church near Dallas.

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“Harriet goes to a church that is pro-life. She has for 25 years,” he said. “She gives them a lot of money. Her personal views lie in that direction.”

But when asked if her personal opposition to abortion would give her sufficient cause to overturn the Supreme Court’s abortion precedent, Hecht said, “I think she’ll say they won’t.”

Miers’ thin record has alarmed many conservative activists, who fear she won’t be the unwavering voice on the right that they want on the high court. But Hecht’s comments on abortion are among several pieces of evidence that have persuaded many other conservatives to support President Bush’s Supreme Court nominee.

“I encourage people to connect the dots,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice. “Hecht is a pro-life conservative, so we take a lot of comfort from that.”

Miers gave $150 to Texans United for Life in 1989 and was a sponsor of their annual dinner that honored Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), a leading congressional opponent of abortion.

Lorlee Bartos, who was Miers’ campaign manager in her race for the Dallas City Council in 1989, recalled that she was surprised to learn her candidate was opposed to abortion rights.

“I wanted her to meet with a group of pro-choice women, and she said she wasn’t pro-choice,” Bartos said. “She said she had been pro-choice but had changed her view.”

Moreover, as Sekulow noted, Bush has vouched for her. “She shares the president’s judicial philosophy,” he said.

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In his news conference Tuesday, Bush said he did not recall discussing abortion or Roe vs. Wade with his longtime lawyer.

But he added: “I made my position very clear in the course of my campaigns. I’m a pro-life president. And I know her. I know her heart. I know what she believes.... And she knows exactly the kind of judge I’m looking for.”

The Supreme Court has been closely split on abortion for the last 20 years. If confirmed, Miers will replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who cast the decisive fifth vote to uphold Roe vs. Wade in 1992. Conservatives were especially upset at the time because Justice David H. Souter, a nominee of President George H.W. Bush, joined O’Connor in the 5-4 ruling.

Souter, a New Hampshire judge, angered his Republican sponsors by joining the court’s liberal wing in upholding church-state separation, the right to abortion and limiting capital punishment.

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But conservative lawyers close to the White House are convinced that Miers will not follow Souter.

“The first President Bush could not have picked David Souter out of a lineup two weeks before he picked him,” said Brad Berenson, a Washington lawyer who worked in the White House three years ago. “This President Bush worked with [Miers] for a decade. He is relying on his own judgment and opinion.”

Supporters of abortion rights also have been uncertain about Miers because of her limited public record.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said Bush’s appearance “raised, not answered, questions for the American public about Harriet Miers. This administration and Miers have the burden of proving to the American people that she would continue Justice O’Connor’s tradition of moderation and independence.”

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If conservatives fear a repeat of the Souter affair, some liberals worry about a replay of the Clarence Thomas nomination.

In his Senate testimony in 1991, Thomas denied having a “fixed” opinion about abortion or Roe vs. Wade. “I have no agenda. I am open about that important case,” he said. Eight months after being confirmed, he voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is also likely to inquire about Miers’ role in the American Bar Assn.'s debate about abortion in the early 1990s, when she and other prominent attorneys led an initiative to overturn the group’s support of abortion rights.

But Dallas attorney Darrell E. Jordan, another former president of the Texas State Bar, who took part in the campaign to change the association’s stance, said Tuesday that the public should not draw conclusions about Miers from that effort.

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Whatever her views on abortion, Jordan said, he agreed with Hecht that she would be very careful before voting to overturn a long-established Supreme Court precedent.

“She is a very disciplined thinker,” he said. “I think she would take the view that only in the rarest of circumstances would she do something to reverse that kind of precedent.”

*

Gold reported from Houston and Savage from Washington.

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