A conservative senator on Miers: "Trust, but verify"

Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback says the president's assurances about the nominee's "heart" aren't enough to satisfy him.

Published October 4, 2005 8:31PM (EDT)

We said yesterday that it would be hard to predict how Harriet Miers will fare in the U.S. Senate until conservative Republicans like Sam Brownback, George Allen and Rick Santorum speak out substantively about her nomination. That process has just begun. Brownback, the Kansas Republican with eyes on a 2008 White House run, issued a statement today in which he suggested that "trust me" assurances from George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won't be enough to win his vote.

"I have said in the past that I would like a nominee with a proven track record on important issues to all Americans and whose judicial philosophy is well-formed," Brownback said. "I am not yet confident that Ms. Miers has a proven track record, and I look forward to having these questions answered. President Bush has a long-standing working relationship with Ms. Miers, and I trust the President knows her heart and her mind. Even so, the confirmation process has just begun, and questions about her views on the Constitution need to be answered. As President Bush and President Reagan have commented in the past, in this regard I feel we must 'trust but verify.'"

Brownback said he looks forward to Miers' confirmation hearings as an opportunity to test "whether she possesses a firm commitment to the Framers' Constitution and to the rule of law." For Brownback and his supporters, that translates roughly to: Is she opposed to gay rights and would she roll back Roe v. Wade? With no judicial track record, it's hard to know what Miers thinks about either issue. She'll be asked -- and, if the John Roberts experience is any guide, won't answer -- about such things during her confirmation hearings. Until then, Brownback, like all of us, will have to keep reading whatever he can into what little there is.

As we noted earlier today, the right can probably get to some kind of comfort level with regard to Miers' views on abortion: She once gave money to an antiabortion group, she tried to persuade the American Bar Association to abandon a pro-choice platform, and the woman who ran her campaign for the Dallas City Council in 1989 says that she's on the "extreme end of the anti-choice movement."

On rights for gay men and lesbians, Miers is a little tougher to decode. When she ran for the City Council, Miers filled out a candidate questionnaire from the Lesbian/Gay Political Action Committee of Dallas. Her answers on the questionnaire were mixed: She said that she believed that gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as anyone else -- this was before marriage equality was the hot-button issue -- and she seemed to support government-funded AIDS education and patient support. On the other hand, Miers said she was not in favor of repealing a Texas law that outlawed consensual sexual relations between homosexuals. The U.S. Supreme Court invalidated that law in 2003 in the case of Lawrence v. Texas. While Clarence Thomas dissented from that ruling, he said that, if he were a member of the Texas legislature, he would have voted to repeal the anti-sodomy law on the ground that it was "uncommonly silly." Thus, Miers in 1989 was to the right of where Thomas stood in 2003.

John Aravosis notes at AMERICAblog that some of Miers' answers on the questionnaire may not be "great," but it may say something about her that she completed the questionnaire at all. "Would a true conservative family-values candidate fill out a candidate questionnaire from a gay rights group today, let alone in 1989 and in Texas to boot?" Aravosis asks. It's the sort of question that Sam Brownback and a lot of other Christian conservatives will be asking themselves, too.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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Sam Brownback R-kan. Supreme Court