WASHINGTON – Making the rounds Monday on Capitol Hill, Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers sought to clarify her judicial philosophy but may have wound up sowing more confusion about her views on abortion.

Her position on the contentious topic appeared to gain some clarity when Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., emerged from a nearly two-hour meeting with her, saying she’d affirmed a key underpinning of the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. But a short time later, his spokesman issued a statement saying the senator had misunderstood the nominee and that she had not taken a position on a constitutional right to privacy.

Hours earlier, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the nominee had disputed a Wall Street Journal column that quoted two close judicial friends from Texas as telling leading conservative skeptics that she’d vote to reverse the landmark 1973 ruling.

“She said to me that she couldn’t recall discussing the Roe vs. Wade case – and whether she would overturn it – with anybody,” Schumer said.

Monday’s flare-up added new turbulence to her already embattled nomination.

Conservative columnist John Fund said he obtained notes of an Oct. 3 conference call showing that the two Miers allies, Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht and U.S. District Judge Ed Kinkeade of Dallas, had assured religious conservatives that she opposed Roe v. Wade. Citing notes from an unnamed participant, Fund reported that someone asked the judges, “Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade?”

“Absolutely,” Kinkeade said.

“I agree with that,” Hecht said during the call, which came the day President Bush nominated Miers.

In a telephone interview Monday, Hecht said that’s not how he remembers the conversation. He said his statements have been the same to all interested parties: While Miers is “pro-life,” her personal beliefs don’t translate into an automatic vote on the court.

Kinkeade declined comment. An aide read a statement, saying the judge “does not feel it is appropriate to have further discussion about Ms. Miers’ nomination in public.”

The flap came as the White House sought to refocus its rocky campaign for Miers, highlighting her qualifications as White House counsel and legal trailblazer for women. Many social conservatives have bristled at her nomination, questioning her background and qualifications.

Hosting six former Texas Supreme Court justices at the White House, the president said of the visiting jurists: “She’s impressed these folks. They know her well. They know that she’ll bring excellence to the bench.”

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration doesn’t know what Miers’ positions will be on future cases “because we don’t have a litmus test and we don’t ask those questions.”

“What we do know is that she is someone who is deeply committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws,” he said.

A participant in the conference call earlier this month, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the Wall Street Journal’s account of what was said. “Obviously, they described her as a pro-life conservative and they said she’s not the kind of person who would legislate from the bench,” he said. “But nobody said, “I’ve talked to Harriet and she assured me blah, blah, blah.”‘

The participant said he has been “on the fence” about the Miers nomination, and heard nothing during the call to change his mind.

“And I think that’s the case for most people on the call,” he said.

Schumer said the Senate Judiciary Committee might seek testimony from Hecht and Judge to clear up the confusion.

White House officials said they had nothing to do with the teleconference in which Hecht and Kinkeade participated.

The Judiciary Committee wants to conduct confirmation hearings the week of Nov. 7, but Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, said Monday that a delay might be necessary.

Schumer called his 45-minute discussion Monday less than illuminating, and said that he wants a second one to get a better grasp of Miers’ judicial philosophy and views on case law.

“She clearly needs some time to learn about these cases, to become familiar with these cases,” he said.

Feinstein, meanwhile, said she had not read the Journal piece, but called Roe v. Wade a “big threshold issue.”

She described her meeting with Miers as “very pleasant,” but declined to offer details because “the real meeting is in the public hearing.”

Miers also finalized her written answers Monday to a committee questionnaire that seeks to probe her experience and legal philosophy.

Those answers will be added to nearly 9,000 pages of documents made public Monday from her tenure at the Texas Lottery Commission and Dallas City Council.

Normally supportive of the Bush administration, conservatives have chafed at what they called White House efforts to make Miers’ evangelical Christianity a selling point.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who had suggested Miers as a potential nominee, urged senators to await her confirmation hearings before making up their minds about her.

“Let’s find out who this woman really is,” Reid said.


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