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Conservatives spar over Miers nomination

Politicians, religious leaders carry debate to Sunday talk shows

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court drew testy comments Sunday from conservatives who leveled their ire at other conservatives.

The remarks spotlighted a rift in the Republican Party between those who support President Bush's pick to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and those who do not.

At the heart of the matter was whether enough was known about Miers' positions to satisfy conservatives who want to see a seismic shift in what they perceive as a liberal Supreme Court. (See video on Miers' supreme battle -- 1:33)

Despite the court's perceived leanings, seven of the current nine justices, including O'Connor, were appointed by Republican presidents.

Bush announced his nomination of Miers on Monday, just minutes before his first pick for the court, John Roberts, took over as chief justice.

Bush since then has defended the 60-year-old Miers, who came to Washington with him from Texas in 2001 and has been White House counsel since February, against Democratic charges of cronyism and questions about her degree of conservatism.

If confirmed Miers would be the only Supreme Court justice currently sitting with no previous experience as a judge, and her lack of experience on the bench has left few clues to suggest how she might rule on hot-button issues.

Some conservative legal activists had hoped Bush would nominate an outspoken conservative to replace O'Connor, a moderate swing vote on the court.

Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Coalition, said Miers "shares the president's philosophy."

"I think what the president wants is a vote that reflects his point of view," he told CNN's "Late Edition." "You look at some of the so-called great scholars. They depart substantially from the presidents that picked them.

"George Bush wants somebody who follows through on his strict constructionist concept," he said.

Gary Bauer, director of the American Values Coalition, took issue with comments made by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina, who said last week that critics of the nomination should "shut up for a few minutes" and give people a chance to learn more about Miers.

"We're not going to find out anything more," Bauer told "Fox News Sunday." "The whole strategy here is the so-called stealth strategy: picking candidates for the Supreme Court who have no judicial record on things that really matter."

The approach has been tried before, he said, and "the only ones who get fooled by it are conservatives."

Graham said on the same program that Bush decided to pick a woman for the post and then "picked the person he knew the best and he trusted the most, and that's classic George W. Bush."

"I think if people will listen and give her a shot and understand who she is and how she's lived her life, she will be a very fine choice," he said.

Bauer intimated that "the worst elements in the Democratic Party" may have intimidated the president to "not nominate people with clear judicial records."

Former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan stood with Bauer on the Miers nomination.

"Ms. Miers' qualifications for the Supreme court are utterly non-existent," he told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"This is a faith-based initiative," he said. "The president of the United States is saying, 'Trust me.' And when you have the decisive vote on the United States Supreme Court, that is not enough."

But other conservatives -- even some religious conservatives, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson -- are fine with the president's choice.

"I don't believe he would have nominated Harriet Miers if he knew that she was going to assassinate what he believed in and that the court would not be reformed the way he wants it to be," said Dobson on Citizen Link, a Web site associated with Focus on the Family.

Dobson has indicated he was told privately how she would vote on certain matters.

Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, said on ABC last week that there was "a good chance" he would vote against Miers if she said that Roe v. Wade was "settled law."

But on CBS' "Face the Nation," he complained about the "litmus test on the left" that draws filibusters "if you don't support Roe, if you don't support abortion rights."

Brownback, less than enthusiastic about Miers, said she lacks "a track record and doesn't seem to be well-formed in her judicial philosophy."

"We should have a vigorous debate about where candidates stand on the issues," Brownback said, though Roberts skillfully skirted direct discussion of his positions on various matters during his confirmation process.

Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the sniping represented "a stampede to justice."

"She's faced ... one of the toughest lynch mobs ever assembled in Washington, D.C., and we really assemble some tough lynch mobs," he told ABC's "This Week."

Specter said Miers "might have potential to be an outstanding Supreme Court justice if given a chance" -- although he also told The New York Times that she would need a "crash course in constitutional law" if she's confirmed.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Democratic co-chair of the committee, told ABC that he had recommended to the president that he "pick somebody outside the judicial monastery" but that he probably should have added: "And also consider somebody outside the White House compound."

Leahy urged that senators and the American public reserve judgment on Miers until her hearing in the Senate.

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