Wednesday, November 30, 2005


MSNBC - The Abrams Report - Debating the Religious Faith of Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers

MSNBC - The Abrams Report
October 12, 2005The Nomination of Harriet Miers
Our world today is competitive, getting ahead is not easy. The solid foundation for life is character and faith that no one can take away and time and events do not erode.
DAN ABRAMS: We‘ve just gotten in that tape of Harriet Miers, giving the commencement speech at Pepperdine University earlier this year. She refers to her faith again and again. Today, President Bush suggested that one of the reasons he chose Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was because of her religious beliefs.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers. They want to know Harriet Miers‘ background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions and part of Harriet Miers‘ life is her religion, part of it has to do with the fact that she was a pioneer woman in a trailblazer in the law in Texas.
ABRAMS: Jay Sekulow joins us now from the American Center for Law and Justice. Barry Lynn is with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. And Tony Mauro is a Supreme Court correspondent for “Legal Times” and “The American Lawyer”.
All right. Barry, you sent out a press release today saying you were extremely troubled by the statements of the president.
Absolutely. You know we are not choosing someone to be a teacher in a Sunday school here. We‘re trying to choose another associate justice for the United States Supreme Court.
The president had a wonderful opportunity today to say when he was asked about religion, to say Harriet Miers is religious, but I cannot talk about this. I have a duty under the Constitution not to violate Article VI, which is a prohibition against any religious test for public office. And he also had an opportunity...
ABRAMS: But wait, Barry, he wasn‘t saying that he had imposed a religious test, was he? I mean all he was saying is...
ABRAMS: ... look, I got to know her. Part of what I know about her is that she‘s religious.
LYNN: Yes, but religion has got to be off the table and he can‘t have Karl Rove, for example, calling James Dobson, the head of “Focus on the Family”, the most important conservative religious leader in the country and saying, oh, by the way, trust the president because Harriet Miers goes to a conservative evangelical church where just about everybody‘s pro-life.
That‘s inappropriate. The president should have condemned Karl Rove for bringing religion into this debate. It has no place whatsoever and I‘d be shocked if even Jay Sekulow thinks we should intrude religion into this kind of debate...
ABRAMS: I will let Jay Sekulow respond. Here‘s what Dobson said today about that.
JAMES DOBSON, “FOCUS ON THE FAMILY”: What did Karl Rove say to me that I knew on Monday that I couldn‘t reveal? Well, it‘s what we all know now. That Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life, that she had taken on the American Bar Association on the issue of abortion and fought for a policy that would not be supportive of abortion, that she had been a member of the Texas Right to Life. In other words, there is a characterization of her that was given to me before the president had actually made this decision.
ABRAMS: Jay, isn‘t there something that makes you feel uncomfortable about the idea that the president today is sort of winking and nodding and saying, yes, look, part of the reason I like her is religious. Karl Rove is calling up Dobson and he‘s saying hey, you know don‘t worry she comes from a really conservative church. It all does sound like Rove and to a small degree, the president, are saying hey, she‘s religious. Don‘t worry.
JAY SEKULOW, AMERICAN CTR FOR LAW & JUSTICE: You have to put all of this in context. First of all, Jim Dobson‘s statement about knowing that Harriet is an evangelical Christian that was no secret. That wasn‘t known simply two or three days before the president made any announcement.
That‘s been—for those that knew Harriet, they knew she was a Christian. This wasn‘t any great surprise. And I think what you initially said, Dan, is actually correct. And that is the president didn‘t impose a religious litmus test.
He didn‘t say look, I‘m going to nominate someone only if they believe in this. But he did say this and I think it‘s legitimate. He nominated Harriet Miers because of who she is. Part of who she is is her faith commitment. You know there‘s a lot of talk when there‘s been nominations to the Supreme Court of the United States of justices that are Jewish, Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, and there was a lot of talk about the Jewish seat at the Supreme Court of the United States as if there was a litmus test.
Now none of us were upset or concerned that President Clinton and other presidents have nominated various members of various different religious groups. That doesn‘t bother anyone...
ABRAMS: There seems to be a difference between saying someone is Jewish versus someone is an evangelical Christian...
ABRAMS: ... wait, wait—and therefore, you can be comfortable that this person will be the kind of justice you will like.
SEKULOW: Now, wait a minute. I think we‘ve got to put this into the context of what was said. Karl Rove‘s statements—and I wasn‘t part of those conversations regarding the fact that Harriet Miers is an evangelical Christian—was not—again, that‘s not big news to anybody...
ABRAMS: It‘s just the fact...
ABRAMS: It‘s just the fact that he‘s saying it.
SEKULOW: But hold it. You‘re putting the statement—you‘re saying if someone has a particular faith perspective that should be...
ABRAMS: Jay, it‘s different...
ABRAMS: It‘s not the same to say—we‘re not saying it‘s because she has a faith that‘s the problem...
SEKULOW: But that is part of who she is and it should not be deemed either a qualifier or a disqualifier.
ABRAMS: But the president seemed to be saying that‘s part of the reason that he liked her.
SEKULOW: No, he was answering a question...
SEKULOW: ... that was asked...
SEKULOW: ... her faith is part of who she is...
ABRAMS: All right, let me bring Tony Mauro into this.
ABRAMS: Tony, look, as the objective observer here, this is unusual, is it not, in terms of the history of a candidate before the process begins having—it‘s not unusual to discuss religion, but this sort of subtle back and forth is a bit unusual, is it not?
TONY MAURO, “LEGAL TIMES‘” SUPREME COURT REPORTER: It certainly is and for President Bush to say that this was a reason, one of the factors why he picked Harriet Miers, it‘s like the rules for cross-examination, which you know, Dan, well, you know once he raises the issue, the other side is now entitled to delve into that more deeply. So I think we‘re about to launch into a debate over what does it mean to have an evangelical Christian Supreme Court justice. Does it mean that that person can‘t be open-minded? It‘s kind of...
ABRAMS: What about Jay‘s point, Tony, that when Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even Breyer, you know you talked about the fact that they were Jewish. People talked about it. They said hey, they‘re Jewish. Is this different to you?
MAURO: I think it is because certainly it was mentioned but I don‘t think President Clinton said that he appointed them in part because they were Jewish...
SEKULOW: Let me remind everybody of the discussions that have taken place in Supreme Court history about the role of religion in the Supreme Court justices‘ nomination process. Well you recall that when Justice Goldberg resigned, there was a lot of discussion about should the replacement be Jewish. Now, I don‘t -- I‘m not one that advocates for a litmus test, but I think you‘re taking...
SEKULOW: ... what the president said completely out of context...
ABRAMS: Barry, final word...
ABRAMS: ... final word. I‘ve got to wrap it up.
LYNN: Jay has completely—Jay you‘ve completely distorted this. The point is Karl Rove works for the White House, works for President Bush, was told to call conservative Christians like James Dobson in order to make the point that this is why she should be considered a safe candidate.
That‘s an improper use of religion. Karl Rove, I know he‘s going to the grand jury later in the week for something else...
LYNN: He should have stopped...
LYNN: No, he should have stopped at the wood shed...
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to wrap it up.
ABRAMS: I apologize to all of you.
ABRAMS: You all deserve more time. Jay Sekulow, Barry Lynn, and Tony Mauro...
ABRAMS: Appreciate it.

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