Associated France Press (AFP) 24/10/2005
US Supreme Court candidate facing an uphill fight for approval
Harriet Miers, nominated by President George W. Bush to fill a vacancy on the US Supreme Court, currently lacks the votes for her confirmation by the US Senate, despite an intense White House campaign to sell her candidacy, lawmakers from both parties acknowledged.
The shortfall could presage another political problem for the president, who unexpectedly ran into opposition from fellow Republicans questioning not only Miers's conservative credentials, but also her grasp of constitutional law.
Since her nomination on October 3, Miers, a former head of the Texas Bar Association and now legal counsel to Bush, has been making the rounds of Capitol Hill, talking to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee while the president and his aides used every opportunity to promote her candidacy.
So far, it appears, to no avail.
"I think, if you were to hold the vote today, she would not get a majority, either in the Judiciary Committee or on the floor," said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, who appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" show Sunday.
He said he was aware of only one or two members of the committee, who firmly support the nominee right now and that hearings set to begin November 7 would be a make-or-break undertaking for Miers.
"I think you have concern on these three areas -- qualification, independence, judicial philosophy -- by people of both parties and all political stripes," Schumer pointed out.
Arlen Specter, Republican chairman of the committee, confirmed the votes were not there at this time, and Miers would have to perform persuasively during the hearings to win over lawmakers.
"People haven't made up their minds. I haven't made up my mind," he admitted on the CBS "Face the Nation" program.
Asked how he would rate the nominee's chances, he remained circumspect, saying somewhat cautiously, "She can be confirmed."
US conservatives are concerned that with her choice of Miers Bush might be missing a unique opportunity to alter the make up of the Supreme Court that is expected to rule in the future on such key social issues as abortion, gay rights and minority preferences.
They believe the nominee, who has never worked as a judge, has no persuasive track record on any of these issues and could not be counted on to lend unwavering support to conservative causes.
Moreover, they argue, the opportunity to install another proven conservative on the bench should be seized now that Republicans are firmly in control of the Senate, a situation that could change as early as next year, after congressional elections.
In a sign of growing confusion, The Washington Times, a newspaper with close ties to the conservative establishment, reported on Saturday that the White House has begun making contingency plans for the withdrawal of Miers's nomination, with presidential aides quietly asking leading conservatives for advice about handling it.
The White House has denied the report.
Republicans hold an 10-8 majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which means a defection by only one disaffected conservative like Senators Sam Brownback or Lindsey Graham could push the nomination over the edge, provided the Democrats maintain a united front against her.
Brownback made clear he remained unpersuaded that Miers was the best available candidate for the nation's highest court, saying he wanted to see more documents drafted by her, including during her years at the White House.
"We need to have that full picture before we can vote as a committee at least, and certainly as a Senate," he told the Fox News TV channel on Sunday.