In reporting "positive response from conservatives" to Miers's support for abortion ban in 1989 survey, LA Times ignored lingering concerns


Two October 19 articles in the Los Angeles Times reported that the revelation that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers indicated in a 1989 survey her support for legislation dramatically restricting abortion has bolstered her standing with conservatives, but neither report fully and accurately described the mixed Republican reaction to the survey. The legislation would have banned abortion except to protect the life of the mother.

In a front-page article, writer Richard A. Serrano reported that news of the survey "generated a positive response from conservatives." A second article, by staff writer Maura Reynolds, claimed that Republicans are "warming up" to Miers. But while several Republicans have suggested that the survey might provide some evidence that Miers would seek to oppose abortion if she were confirmed to the Supreme Court, they did not say it definitively answered their concerns. Moreover, reports in both The New York Times and The Washington Post noted that many conservatives have dismissed the notion that the survey is indicative of how Miers would rule on abortion.

Serrano's report provided no evidence that the survey "generated a positive response" from conservatives and cited only American Center for Law and Justice chief counsel Jay Sekulow's statement that "[w]hile she may hold personal views that underscore the value of human life, it would be wrong for those views to be used against her in the confirmation process." Sekulow is among the conservatives who have strongly supported Miers since President Bush nominated her on October 3.

The strongest evidence marshaled by either of the Los Angeles Times articles to support their conclusion that the 1989 survey has strengthened support for Miers among conservatives and Republicans was a remark by Sen. John Thune (R-SD), cited in the report by Reynolds:

"It will be a positive for her with me and with others who care about the life issue," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who met with Miers for 45 minutes in his office Tuesday. "I think it will be construed favorably among conservatives."

But Reynolds's report also cited Sen. George Allen's (R-VA) remark that the "very strong pro-life questionnaire" is "not dispositive one way or another." The article also reported another comment from Thune in which he suggested that the survey did not fully resolve his -- or other conservatives' -- concerns:

"The question that lingers out there is, because there isn't a written paper trail, is she someone who is really in the tradition of a Scalia or a Thomas," Thune said. "That is what has conservatives around the country a little perplexed, and I think it is going to take time."

Further contradicting the conclusions posited in the Los Angeles Times, October 19 reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post on the reaction to the survey cited numerous Republicans and conservatives who concluded that the survey did little to resolve their concerns about Miers's nomination.

The New York Times reported that the survey "failed to assuage the concerns of some conservative Republicans," noting Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-KS) determination that the survey "did not resolve his concerns" that Miers might uphold abortion rights (although Brownback did say he took "some comfort" in the survey, according to an October 19 Knight Ridder report). The New York Times also reported Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) remark that regardless of the survey, he is not "swayed one way or the other" as to whether Miers is "qualified" and "competent" for the job; noted that the survey will not prevent National Review contributing editor and former Bush speechwriter David Frum from "raising money to oppose her nomination"; and cited American Values president and former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer's claim that despite the survey, only Miers "knows for sure" whether she would vote to overturn Roe.

Similarly, the Post reported that Miers's survey "did not appear to quell doubts among some conservatives" that Miers "is a sound choice to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor." The Post quoted Free Congress Foundation chairman and CEO Paul M. Weyrich's statement that "[t]here is absolutely no guarantee that she would end up voting that way if given the opportunity."

Posted In
Health Care, Justice & Civil Liberties
Supreme Court Nominations, Miers Nomination
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