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Bush: Abortion not discussed with nominee

President says Miers shares his legal philosophy

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Speaking to reporters Tuesday, President Bush defends his high court nominee, Harriet Miers.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush said Tuesday he has never discussed abortion with White House counsel Harriet Miers, his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

"Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her [to discuss abortion]," Bush said in his first solo press conference since May. "What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be."

The president said he has never discussed abortion during any his interviews with his judicial nominees, including Miers.

"There is no litmus test," Bush said. "What matters to me is her judicial philosophy. What does she believe the proper role of the judiciary is relative to the legislative and the executive branch?

Bush also defended Miers against Democratic charges of cronyism and questions about her conservative record, saying she shares his legal philosophy.

"I picked the best person I could find," Bush said. "People are going to be amazed at her strength of character and her intellect."

"I don't want someone to go on the bench to try to supplant the legislative process," Bush said. "I'm interested in people that will be strict constructionists, and Harriet Miers shares that philosophy."

He also said he picked Miers because her legal philosophy would not change if she sat on the high bench.

"I don't want to put somebody on the bench who's this way today and changes," he said. "That's not what I'm interested in. I'm interested in finding somebody who shares my philosophy today and will have that same philosophy 20 years from now."

"I've known her for more than 10 years," Bush said. "She's a woman of principle and deep conviction."

He urged the Senate to vote on Miers' nomination by Thanksgiving.

Concern among conservatives

On Monday, Miers paid courtesy calls to senators who will decide her confirmation, and her lack of experience as a judge prompted a cautious reaction from conservatives and liberals.

"I do look forward to the process here in the Senate," she said after meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican.

Frist said he hoped to have a vote on Miers' nomination by Thanksgiving.

But Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said he could not commit to a timetable "until the committee sees more about what the scope of the job is." (Watch: Miers has no judicial experience -- 2:30)

"Thoroughness would be the objective, as opposed to meeting any timetable," Specter said.

After a month of scouring the federal judiciary and consulting senators to find a credible and confirmable replacement for O'Connor, President Bush reached into his inner circle and picked Miers -- a woman he once famously described as "a pit bull in size 6 shoes."

O'Connor will continue to serve on the high court until her successor is confirmed.

"I've known Harriet for more than a decade. I know her heart," Bush said of his fellow Texan, whose nomination took Washington by surprise. "I'm confident that Harriet Miers will add to the wisdom and character of the judiciary."

Miers, 60, was involved as White House counsel in vetting Supreme Court candidates for the president. She said she was "humbled" by Bush's decision to nominate her.

If confirmed, she will be just the third woman in history to serve on the high court.

Thin record on issues

Despite a distinguished career as a corporate attorney in Dallas before coming to Washington with Bush in 2001, Miers has never been a judge, leaving few clues to suggest how she might rule on hot-button issues. (Case list)

Judicial experience is not required for a Supreme Court appointment; the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist had also never served on the bench before his appointment in 1971.

The president expressed confidence that Miers would "strictly interpret" the Constitution and "not legislate from the bench." (Watch Bush nominate Miers to the Supreme Court -- 9:09)

But some conservative legal activists hoped Bush would nominate an outspoken conservative to replace O'Connor, a moderate swing vote on the court. (Full story on reaction | Watch senators react to Miers' nomination -- 3:49)

Mark Moller of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, accused Bush of choosing a "sphinx-like presidential pal" in the face of declining poll numbers, instead of opting for a more controversial pick whose views were well known.

A senior White House official said it was ironic conservatives were not happy with Miers, given that she was the administration official in charge of making sure the president nominated judges who could pass conservative muster.

The immediate reaction of Senate Democrats to the Miers nomination was generally one of caution.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised her when they appeared together, calling her a "very fine lawyer."

'Different and useful perspective'

He said he was not bothered by her lack of judicial experience, which he said would "bring a different and useful perspective to the court."

Miers, who has never married, has a reputation for being very private. In Dallas, she was a member of the Valley View Christian Church, a conservative evangelical congregation.

Unlike most justices on the high court, Miers has no Ivy League pedigree -- her undergraduate and law degrees are from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. She went on to become the first woman president of both the Dallas and Texas bar associations.

From 1989 to 1991, she was a member of the Dallas City Council -- political experience that would be unique among the sitting justices. (Profile)

While serving on the council, Miers gave $150 to Texans for Life, an anti-abortion rights group. But Kyleen Wright, the group's current president, said she is "not convinced" Miers is a committed opponent of abortion rights.

Bush announced his nomination just 75 minutes before Chief Justice John Roberts took his place in the court's center seat after winning confirmation last week to replace Rehnquist.

Miers' service in Washington could prompt a renewal of the dispute over the release of legal documents that cropped up during Roberts' confirmation.

CNN's Dana Bash, Delia Gallagher and Bill Mears contributed to this report.

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