Frame Game

Culture of Litmus

Don’t you dare judge Harriet Miers on abortion.

Stop the abortion distortion

The day after President Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, a reporter asked him whether he had ever “gleaned from her comments her views on” abortion. Bush replied that he had “no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy.” A White House spokeswoman added, “A nominee who shares the president’s approach of judicial restraint would not allow personal views to affect his or her rulings based on the law.”

Here we go again: Democrats pressing for a nominee’s views on abortion; Republicans saying it’s improper to screen nominees based on their beliefs and politics.

Let’s drop the piety. Miers has already been screened for her abortion beliefs and politics by the White House and its allies. A few examples:

1. Karl Rove. According to the New York Times, Rove “started calling influential social conservatives to reassure them,” in particular James Dobson. Subsequently, “Dobson said he came out to support her partly because of her faith and partly because he believed she opposed abortion. ‘I have reason to believe she is pro-life,’ he said.” As to what Rove had told him, Dobson demurred: “Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about.” According to the Associated Press, Dobson told his radio audience that Miers was pro-life and predicted she’d be a good justice based on “some of the things I know—that I probably shouldn’t know.”

2. Nathan Hecht. The Times reported that Monday morning that “the White House and the Republican Party began organizing a series of nearly a half-dozen conference calls with conservative organizers. … In one call, friends of Ms. Miers, including Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court, testified to her evangelical Christian faith and devoted participation in the theologically conservative Valley View Christian Church in Dallas. Mr. Hecht, in particular, assured them that she personally opposed abortion and had once attended ‘pro-life’ events with him, said participants in the call.” The Dallas Morning News reported that Hecht, a former Rove campaign client, “worked the phones Tuesday on a mission authorized at the highest levels of the White House” spreading the good word about Miers through the press. Hecht told the Los Angeles Times, “Harriet goes to a church that is pro-life. … She gives them a lot of money. Her personal views lie in that direction.” He told the Washington Post, “She thinks that after conception, it’s not a balancing act—or if it is, it’s a balancing of two equal lives.” Presumably, Hecht made the same points on the conference calls.

3. Leonard Leo. Leo, the GOP’s chairman for Catholic outreach, disseminated a memo telling conservatives that Miers “led a campaign to have the American Bar Association end its practice of supporting abortion-on-demand and taxpayer-funded abortions.” According to the New York Times, Leo, enlisted by “staff members of the Senate Republican leadership,” touted Miers’ ABA campaign at a meeting with conservative activists.

4. Others. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, has been proselytizing on the right for Miers. “I encourage people to connect the dots,” he explained to the Los Angeles Times. “Hecht is a pro-life conservative, so we take a lot of comfort from that.” Keith Appell, an influential conservative publicist, issued a statement trumpeting her $150 donation to Texans United for Life. And according to the Detroit Free Press, Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, said supporters are spreading “the story of Harriet Miers becoming a Christian”—a story “linked to her growing political conservatism.”

I’m sure some Democrats will press Miers to say she’d reaffirm Roe v. Wade. I’m sure a few Republicans will press her to say she wouldn’t. I’m sure she’ll refuse to say one way or the other. But let’s not have any lectures about the impropriety of scrutinizing her politics and beliefs. We’ve crossed that line already.