Harriet Miers, meet Clarence Thomas

She claims she has never discussed Roe v. Wade with anyone -- and that if Arlen Specter thought she said that privacy cases were "rightly decided," he must have misunderstood her.

Published October 18, 2005 1:42PM (EDT)

A decade and a half ago, it was hard to believe George H.W. Bush when he said that Clarence Thomas was the "best qualified person" for a spot on the Supreme Court, and it was harder still to believe Thomas when he insisted, during his confirmation hearings, that he couldn't remember ever offering an opinion to anyone about Roe v. Wade.

Justice Thomas, meet Harriet Miers.

The woman George W. Bush says is the "best person" he could find for the Supreme Court is now insisting that she's never shared her views on Roe with anyone -- including with the two Texas judges who reportedly assured leaders of the religious right last month that Miers would vote to overturn Roe. Miers met with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer yesterday. And according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, Schumer said that Miers claimed during their meeting that she "couldn't recall discussing Roe v. Wade with anybody." Newsday says that notes from a Miers aide reflect a similar statement. In her conversation with Schumer, the notes say, Miers said: "No one knows how I will rule on Roe v. Wade."

That "no one knows" bit could apply to a lot about Miers. During their meeting yesterday, Schumer said that Miers repeatedly failed to answer questions he asked her. "On many she wouldn't give answers," Schumer told Newsday. "On many others she deferred, saying 'I need to sort of bone up on this a little more, I need to come to conclusions.'"

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter thought he knew something about the nominee yesterday, and what he thought he knew surprised him: He said that she had told him in a conversation that she thought the seminal right-to-privacy cases Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird had been "rightly decided." But shortly after Specter told reporters of Miers' statements, Miers called him to say that he had misunderstood her. She hadn't said that Griswold and Eisenstadt were "rightly decided"; she hadn't discussed specific cases at all.

Specter's office said that the senator "accepts Ms. Miers' statement that he misunderstood what she said."

If you find it a little hard to believe that Specter -- a smart lawyer himself -- would have been so confused about what Miers said, well, you're not alone. Jan LaRue, chief counsel for the conservative group Concerned Women for America, tells CNN that she's puzzled by the claim of a mix-up because Specter has a reputation for being precise when it comes to issues of constitutional law. "It sounds like he's being gracious," LaRue says. "I mean, how could he get that wrong? It sounds funny to me. . . . This is going to be interesting to see how clearly she answers questions before the full committee, if we've already (seen) this kind of misunderstanding over something so simple."

By Tim Grieve

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

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Arlen Specter D-pa. Chuck Schumer D-n.y.