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Cautious reaction to Miers' nomination

Conservatives, liberals take a wait-and-see attitude

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(CNN) -- Conservatives and liberals reacted cautiously Monday to President Bush's nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers, noting her lack of experience as a judge and the absence of a record that definitively demonstrates her judicial philosophy.

Nevertheless, many, including the Senate minority leader, pointed to her groundbreaking career and strong legal reputation.

Miers, 60, was the first woman to head the State Bar of Texas. She has never been a judge.

Conservatives, in particular, seemed concerned about her lack of a proven conservative record.

"The reaction of many conservatives today will be that the president has made possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas who had been the president's lawyer," said activist Manuel Miranda of the Third Branch Conference, referring to President Lyndon B. Johnson's pick to the high court in 1965.

"The nomination of a nominee with no judicial record is a significant failure for the advisers that the White House gathered around it. However, the president deserves the benefit of a doubt, the nominee deserves the benefit of hearings, and every nominee deserves an up-or-down vote."

The Concerned Women for America, another conservative group, also took a wait-and-see approach on Miers.

"We give Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt because thus far, President Bush has selected nominees to the federal courts who are committed to the written Constitution," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of the group. "Whether we can support her will depend on what we learn from her record and the hearing process."

One Republican official said that many had expectations that Bush's pick would be a "known conservative," adding that he was surprised by the president's choice.

"Republicans were hoping for a clear conservative," the official said. "It's going to be heavy lifting for us and the White House."

Another conservative source who was involved in the selection consultation process said Miers was "not a big surprise" and that she had always been someone under serious consideration.

"She's a good conservative," the source said. "She does share the president's views about law and public policy. But she is not well-known, which is going to be part of the challenge."

Other conservatives also applauded Miers' nomination.

"Harriet Miers is an intelligent lawyer who shares the president's judicial philosophy," said Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society.

"She has demonstrated that in her capacity as White House counsel and a senior administration official as well as an active member of the organized bar."

Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Miers' home state of Texas who has known the nominee for 15 years, also said the nominee has "the professional experience that will prepare her for this position."

"She is obviously not a Scalia or a Thomas," Cornyn said, referring to Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, who are considered staunch conservative voices on the court, though he did not elaborate. "She is a good person, a consummate professional and a good nominee." (Watch senators react to Miers' nomination -- 3:49)

Speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, also defended Miers' conservative credentials.

"I think [conservative groups] are concerned because they don't know Harriet Miers like I do and like the president does," Hatch said. "I think she's going to be a solid, decent strict constructionist who will abide by the law."

Reid praises nominee

Appearing with the new nominee at the Capitol, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said he was pleased with the nomination.

"I'm very happy with the fact that we have someone who has been nominated by the president who is like approximately 39 other people who have served on the court -- people who have had no judicial experience," said Reid, himself a trial lawyer. "I think that's a plus, not a minus. ...

"It goes without saying that I'm very happy that the president chose a woman to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor. So I look forward to the process."

Reid raised Miers' name during a September 22 breakfast meeting with the president in which Sens. Frist, Specter, Leahy and he discussed possible candidates with the president, Reid spokeman Jim Manley said. Reid believes Miers would bring a "fresh perspective" to the court, Manley said.

While some may question the choice due to Miers' lack of judicial experience, Reid said the high court needed someone such as the nominee.

"I don't want to denigrate in any way Ivy League schools, but I think that that should not be a requirement that you become a clerk or a judge," Reid said.

The previous high court nominee, Chief Justice John Roberts, graduated from Harvard Law School, clerked for former Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and was a federal appeals court judge before before stepping up to the high court.

Miers received undergraduate and law degrees from Southern Methodist University.

Leahy: 'Too early to reach any firm judgment'

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee also reacted cautiously to Miers' nomination, but they did not immediately oppose it.

"My first reaction is a simple one: It could have been a lot worst," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. "... The president has not sent us a nominee that we've rejected already."

Schumer added, "There's hope that Harriet Miers is a mainstream nominee. ... Given the fact that the extreme wing of the president's party was demanding someone of fealty to their views, this is a good first day in the process that begins to fill the seat of Sandra Day O'Connor."

In a statement, the Democratic National Committee said, "There are a lot of obvious concerns: her lack of experience, cronyism and of course her views on our basic freedoms."

But the DNC also called the nomination a sign that Bush was "unable to pick a nominee that would appeal to his extreme right-wing base."

In a written statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, said, "It is too early to reach any firm judgment about such an important nomination," noting Miers' long ties to the president.

"It is important to know whether she would enter this key post with the judicial independence necessary when the Supreme Court considers issues of interest to this administration."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, another Democratic committee member and the only female member of the panel, said she was happy that a woman was nominated to replace O'Connor but wanted to know more about Miers' views on privacy and other issues.

"This new justice will be critical in the balance with respect to rulings on congressional authority as well as a woman's right to privacy, environmental protections and many other aspects of constitutional law in the United States," Feinstein said.

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