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Miers Backed Abortion Ban in 1989 Survey

Times Staff Writer

Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers told a conservative group in 1989 that she opposed abortion and would “actively support” legislation to severely restrict the procedure should the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade, documents released Tuesday showed.

Her position 16 years ago, when she was running for the Dallas City Council, is the first indication of Miers’ views on abortion to come directly from her. Since being nominated by President Bush, Miers has declined to discuss the topic.

That reluctance has caused consternation among Republicans and Democrats who wonder what role she might play if given a lifelong seat on the nation’s highest court. But news of Miers’ answers to the Texans United for Life questionnaire generated a positive response from conservatives, and seemed to erode support among those who had viewed her as being more moderate.

The document was among hundreds of pages the nominee submitted Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on her confirmation next month.

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The material, much of it in her own words, fills in gaps in what was known about her personal and professional life. Some highlights:

* While running successfully for the Dallas City Council, Miers told the Dallas Eagle Forum, another conservative group, that she would not support a local ordinance to force individuals and business owners to accommodate “persons with AIDS and those perceived to have AIDS.”

* She divulged in a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire that she initially took herself out of the running to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “I was asked whether my name should be considered,” Miers said. “I indicated at that time that I did not want to be considered.” She later relented over dinner at the White House with the president and First Lady Laura Bush.

* She disclosed that her license to practice law in Washington was suspended this year when she failed to pay her bar dues. She said she immediately paid the dues and “corrected the situation.”

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* She described her judicial philosophy, saying “courts are to be arbiters of disputes, not policy makers” and that “the courts cannot be the solution to society’s ills.”

* In contrast to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who had argued 39 cases before the Supreme Court, Miers has never practiced before the high court. She said she tried to bring two cases before the court, but the justices refused to hear them.

At the time Miers answered the questionnaire for Texans United for Life, Roe vs. Wade -- a case that originated in the federal courts in Dallas -- was recognized as the law of the land in granting women the right to have an abortion.

She told the group that she would “actively support” ratification by the Texas Legislature of a federal constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion except to prevent the death of a pregnant woman. She also responded that if the Supreme Court gave states the right to restrict abortions, she would support legislation to reinstate the 1973 Texas law that prohibited all abortions except those necessary to safeguard women.

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She responded that she was against public funds’ being used for abortions, opposed city facilities being used to “promote, encourage or provide referrals for abortions” and was willing to participate in news conferences to promote the goals of the “pro-life movement.” She also said she would participate in “pro-life rallies and special events.”

The document drew immediate criticism from abortion rights supporters.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said the information raised “very serious concerns” about Miers’ “ability to fairly apply the law without bias in this regard.”

White House aides called attention to the abortion questionnaire -- and to a similar one on AIDS -- in an apparent effort to shore up the president’s conservative base, which has been waffling over whether Miers is right for the Supreme Court.

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“While she may hold personal views that underscore the value of human life, it would be wrong for those views to be used against her in the confirmation process,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice.

Miers’ views on other social issues contained in the materials released Tuesday remained somewhat ambiguous.

She listed herself as having served in 1987 as chairwoman of the advisory committee for Girls Inc. of Dallas -- a group that the American Family Assn. has described as “pro-lesbian and pro-abortion.”

Alexander Kopelman, national spokesman for Girls Inc., said in an interview that the organization supported Roe vs. Wade and accepted all girls, regardless of sexual orientation. But he disputed Miers’ statement that she had chaired the advisory committee. He said the group had no record of her being involved with Girls Inc. -- other than receiving an award in 1987 as an “outstanding woman doing good things in her career and her community.”

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Miers, in giving new details about Bush’s selection process for the court, described that after taking herself out of contention, she “participated in all interviews that ultimately resulted in the president’s selection of Judge John Roberts.”

When Roberts’ nomination was shifted to fill the vacancy left by the death of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Miers said, “I participated in consideration of potential nominees to fill a second vacancy” for O’Connor’s seat.

“At some point I understand that individuals at the White House began considering me as a potential nominee without advising me,” she said. “During approximately the last two weeks before the announcement of the intent to nominate, I spoke with Deputy White House Counsel William Kelley, Chief of Staff Andrew Card and the president, and realized that my name was under consideration.”

She said she met with Bush four times “to discuss the possibility of my nomination” -- on Sept. 21, 28 and 29 and Oct. 2.

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On the evening of Oct. 2, she said, she “had dinner with the president and Mrs. Bush. At that time he offered and I accepted the nomination.”

In her legal career, Miers said, she mostly has handled civil litigation dealing with contract disputes and other corporate matters. Occasionally she performed pro bono work, such as an immigration matter she handled for a woman and her son facing deportation, as well as paternity and adoption cases and estate planning.

As a judge, she said, she would be a strict constructionist and follow the Constitution.

“Because their power is so great, and because it is largely unchecked,” Miers said, “judges must be vigilant in exercising their power in a humble, prudent and limited way.”

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Times staff writer David G. Savage contributed to this report.


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