WASHINGTON – President Bush delivered a message Tuesday to conservative supporters: Trust me on Harriet Miers.

Calling the Dallas lawyer the most qualified person he could find for the Supreme Court, Bush used a news conference to repeatedly reassure conservative skeptics that she shares their philosophy.

“She will not legislate from the bench,” Bush said of his White House counsel.

The president spoke a day after nominating Miers, amid complaints from some conservatives about her qualifications and questions about her judicial philosophy. They wondered whether she could help push the court to the right on such issues as abortion rights and affirmative action.

White House officials called the criticism from talk radio and conservative magazines “overblown,” and predicted that Miers would have solid support where it counts: the U.S. Senate.

“People can opine all they want, but the final opinion is on the floor of the United States Senate,” Bush said.

The president said he hopes Miers will be confirmed by Thanksgiving. She would replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, often the swing vote on close cases involving social issues.

While Bush and aides trumpeted Miers’ conservative credentials, the nominee herself spoke privately with senators who are busy researching her background.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct conformation hearings on Miers, offered an enthusiastic endorsement: “A lot of my fellow conservatives are concerned, but they don’t know her as I do.”

Other Senate conservatives took a wait-and-see approach.

Judiciary Committee member Sam Brownback, R-Kan., prominent abortion foe and potential presidential candidate, said he would like to see “a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans and whose judicial philosophy is well-formed.”

“I am not yet confident that Ms. Miers has a proven track record, and I look forward to having these questions answered,” he said.

Bush also said he did not discuss abortion with Miers as he considered her for the high court.

Saying he has “no litmus test,” Bush said: “In my interviews with any judge, I never ask their personal opinion on the subject of abortion.”

As for whether he has ever discussed the subject with Miers as a friend, Bush replied: “Not to my recollection.”

That exchange drew comment from abortion rights supporters.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the news conference “raised, not answered, questions for the American public about Harriet Miers.”

Since Bush’s announcement, Miers’ nomination has drawn fire from conservative luminaries ranging from radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh to Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. Some called her little more than a crony of the president.

Former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, appearing Tuesday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” said, “I’m sure she’s a conservative, but there’s no way this woman is qualified for the United States Supreme Court.”

On the other hand, Miers is racking up a number of conservative endorsements, such as Richard Land with the Southern Baptist Convention.

“If the president trusts Harriet Miers to fulfill his campaign promises to the American people, then I trust Harriet Miers until I am given compelling evidence to the contrary,” he said.

Senate Democrats and liberal organizations, meanwhile, continued to take a low-key approach to the Miers nomination, waiting to see how the conservative debate plays out.

Some members of the groups that opposed Bush’s first nominee, new Chief Justice John Roberts, predicted conservatives would rally around Miers in their drive to roll back abortion, affirmative action and separation of church and state.

“Then concern will shift to our side of the political ledger,” said Nan Aron, president of the Washington-based Alliance for Justice. “But it’s too early to say what’s going to happen.”

Since Miers’ nomination, Bush backers from the White House to the Republican National Committee to outside conservative groups have promoted her through a variety of methods: conference calls, blogs, talk radio and television interviews. One aim is to unite the president’s conservative base behind Miers.

“We’re in what I’d call the education stage,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel with the American Center for Law & Justice, who has talked up Miers during a string of interviews.

The highest-profile pro-Miers effort: Bush’s news conference in the Rose Garden.

“I know her,” the president said at one point. “I know her heart. I know what she believes.”

Bush praised Miers’ intelligence, character, and principle. He called the former Texas and Dallas bar president a female pioneer. He said her lack of judicial experience would bring a fresh perspective to the high court.

Miers also headed up the judicial selection process that produced Justice Roberts and a host other conservative nominees, Bush pointed out.

The president also suggested that Miers would not be like past Republicans nominees who, at least in the view of conservatives, moved to the left after joining the high court.

“I’m interested in finding somebody who shares my philosophy today, and will have that same philosophy 20 years from now,” Bush said.

Conservatives have been particularly critical of GOP nominees O’Connor, Anthony Kennedy and David Souter, all of whom have backed abortion rights. The first president Bush nominated Souter.

Asked whether the Souter nomination was a mistake, this president said: “You’re trying to get me in trouble with my father.”

White House officials predicted Republican support would be there. Bush said it would be up to the Senate, particularly the Democrats, to decide whether the nomination turns into a big fight.

“It’s up to them if they want to bring dignity to the process,” the president said. “I will assure you this: Harriet Miers will bring dignity to the bench.”

(c) 2005, The Dallas Morning News.

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