WASHINGTON (AP) – Stunned by conservative opposition to Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, President Bush next week will bring in former judges from her home state of Texas to trumpet her qualifications for the nation’s highest court.

The event is part of an administration effort to refine its push for Miers after its initial strategy failed to quiet vocal opposition from members of the president’s own party.

The Republican critics, who suggest Bush passed over candidates with long records of conservative rulings from the bench, say that if the White House strategy continues to amount to a “trust me” message, they’ll continue to grumble.

On Friday, press secretary Scott McClellan repeatedly used the words “qualified” and “well-qualified” to defend Miers and said she deserved a fair hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Conservative opponents say emphasizing her resume is part of a retooled White House tack.

The White House also has sought to dampen opposition from the GOP’s right flank by noting that Miers attended an evangelical church in Texas that is almost universally pro-life. The president earlier this week spoke of how religion was “part of Harriet Miers”‘ life.

That further inflamed some critics, rubbing against the grain of judicial conservatism – the idea that judges should strictly interpret the Constitution and that their opinions should not be colored by personal beliefs on such issues as abortion.

Bush has announced his allegiance to judicial conservatism by saying repeatedly that judges shouldn’t “legislate from the bench.” To erase any doubt, McClellan stressed that Miers was “firmly committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws.”

So far, Miers’ conservative critics have not been persuaded.

The National Pro-Life Action Center on Friday called on Bush to withdraw his “ill-advised” nomination. Gary Bauer, a leading conservative, wrote his supporters on Friday: “The nomination of Harriet Miers has split conservatives unlike anything I can remember. The debate will not end, in fact it will become more intense.”

Manual Miranda, a former counsel to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, said White House advisers are meeting next week to regroup and hone their message.

The White House did not confirm that such a meeting was scheduled.

“They need to stop what they’re doing – a series of ham-fisted messages such as pushing the religious issue and suggesting that she’s someone that can be counted on to vote a certain way,” Miranda said. “That gives no comfort to conservatives because the bottom line with conservatives is that she’s un-credentialed.”

On Monday, as senators return from visits to their districts, Bush is hosting a White House event with former justices of the Texas Supreme Court. Miers will be meeting with more senators next week and is expected to return a 12-page questionnaire to the judiciary panel early next week.

Three former justices wrote to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday trumpeting her credentials to wear a Supreme Court robe.

“These accomplishments can only be attributed to Harriet Miers’ legal brilliance,” the letter said. “They demonstrate her unquestioned ability and the confidence she has uniformly earned from her peers.”

Some conservatives caution against a rush to judgment.

She deserves a chance to prove herself, said Ronald Cass, dean emeritus of Boston University School of Law and co-chairman of the Committee for Justice, which backs Bush’s nominees for the bench.

“If Miers’ performance at those hearings is not that of a person who seems ready to interpret the Constitution thoughtfully, she will lose my support,” he said. “If she comes across as an experienced, intelligent lawyer committed to law-bound judging, then she should gain public support from conservatives now criticizing her nomination – though the damage to our party at that point might be irreparable.”

The White House also is rebutting criticism that Miers lacks knowledge of constitutional law. McClellan said a White House counsel deals with laws governing war powers, presidential powers and pardons and executive privilege as well as constitutional amendments.

“She’s really quite an expert on dealing with the realities of the struggles between the executive branch, the legislative branch – and I’m going to say – the judicial branch,” White House chief of staff Andy Card told C-SPAN in an interview Thursday.

Card acknowledged the White House was stunned by the caustic opposition from some members of the president’s party. “I don’t think they know her,” Card said. “I’m a little surprised that they came out of the box so cynically.”


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