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On Senate Questionnaire, Miers Has Her Chance to Speak Out

By David D. Kirkpatrick
THE NEW YORK TIMES


WASHINGTON

After two weeks of hectoring from conservatives about her Supreme Court nomination, Harriet E. Miers is expected to offer her first rebuttal on Monday in her answers to a Senate questionnaire.

Strategists close to the White House, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal, say they hope that Miers can use open-ended questions about subjects like “judicial activism” to lay out her approach to constitutional issues and to placate her conservative critics without providing ammunition to potential liberal opponents.

Her answers could play an important role in helping the White House and its allies recast the debate over her selection. Unlike the confirmation of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., the debate over Miers has focused on her limited record of constitutional jurisprudence and the question of how she might rule on abortion-rights cases. And many conservatives say the White House has only inflamed that debate by trying to mollify them with reports of her membership in an evangelical Protestant church and her personal views on abortion.

Scott McClellan, a spokesman for the White House, illustrated the administration’s effort to redirect the debate when he answered questions in a news conference on Friday about the emphasis on her faith. “The emphasis that we have,” McClellan said, “is on her view that judges should strictly interpret our Constitution and our laws, and not legislate from the bench.”

To bolster her credentials, the White House also distributed a letter from three former chief justices of the Texas Supreme Court who attested to Miers’ “legal brilliance.”

Still, as Miers, the White House counsel, continues her rounds in the Senate on Monday, she is likely to face questions about the administration’s early efforts to reassure conservatives in private conversations and conference calls that she is a good bet for their side.

“I am going to ask her whether she played any role in those whispers and nods,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a New York Democrat on the Judiciary Committee who is scheduled to meet privately with Miers on Monday.

Schumer said he planned to focus on her work in the White House and her views at that time, in part because she had not left a body of writings about constitutional issues. Two weeks after the nomination, Schumer said, “we still don’t know anything about her.”