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White House defends talk of Miers' religion

Bush: 'Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion'

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Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush suggested Wednesday that Harriet Miers' evangelical Christian beliefs were part of the reason he nominated her to the Supreme Court. But later a White House spokesman said her religion played no role in her selection.

"People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers," Bush told reporters at the White House. "They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions."

"Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," Bush said during Oval Office comments with visiting Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski. "Part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman and a trailblazer in the law in Texas."

Bush's decision to name Miers, his White House counsel and a longtime aide, to the Supreme Court seat now held by retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor upset conservative leaders who wanted someone with a clear record of opposition to abortion.

Miers, 60, has left few clues to her position on that bitterly fought issue in her previous public posts, which include service on the Dallas city council and as Bush's lottery commissioner when he was governor of Texas.

James Dobson, founder of the evangelical Christian organization Focus on the Family, told listeners to his radio program Wednesday that Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, called him to discuss Miers' religious beliefs before Bush announced her nomination October 3.

Focus on the Family generally promotes socially conservative policies, including opposition to abortion, and is considered a major voice in the Christian right.

Dobson's radio show airs on more than 3,000 stations and reaches an estimated 26 million U.S. listeners each week.

Dobson said Rove told him the nominee is "an evangelical Christian; that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life; that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion."

White House position

Later Wednesday, White House press secretary Scott McClellan denied Miers' religious beliefs had anything to do with her nomination.

"Harriet Miers is a person of faith," McClellan told reporters. "She recognizes, however, that a person's religion or personal views have no role when it comes to making decisions as a judge."

McClellan said the White House was "just pointing out facts about who she is" by raising the issue.

"But that's not what we're emphasizing," McClellan said. "What we're emphasizing is her judicial philosophy and her experience and her qualifications."

McClellan was asked specifically whether Miers' religion played a role in Bush's selection of her.

"No, the president makes decisions based on the person's qualifications and experience and judicial temperament," McClellan said.

But he appeared to qualify his answer when he was asked a follow-up question about the role Miers' beliefs played in Bush's decision.

"That's part of who she is. That's part of her background. That's what the president was talking about in his remarks in the Oval Office," McClellan said.

Bush said his aides were trying "to explain the facts to people."

"More importantly, Harriet's going to be able to explain the facts to people when she testifies and people are going to see why I named her -- nominated her -- to the bench. And she's going to make a great Supreme Court judge," Bush said.

Dobson hints at inside information

Last week, Dobson hinted he had inside information from the White House that persuaded him to support Miers' nomination, but Wednesday he said Rove "didn't tell me anything about the way Harriet Miers would vote on cases that may come before the Supreme Court."

But Dobson said Rove did tell him that Miers was "at the top of the short list of names under consideration" two days before the president's announcement -- when the nominee's identity was a closely held secret.

Dobson's comments last week raised eyebrows among members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is expected to hold hearings on Miers' nomination before Thanksgiving.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee's ranking Democrat, accused the White House of using "whispers and signals" to communicate Miers' opposition to abortion while insisting that it has no "litmus test" for nominees.

"The rest of America, including the Senate, deserves to know what he and the White House know," Leahy said in a written statement. "We don't confirm justices of the Supreme Court on a wink and a nod."

The panel's chairman, Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, said Sunday he might subpoena Dobson during the hearings.

"If Dr. Dobson knows something that he shouldn't know, or something that I ought to know, I'm going to find out," Specter told ABC's "This Week."

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