The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to summon James Dobson–and perhaps other evangelical leaders–to ask whether they received private assurances that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers would vote to end legalized abortion, the committee’s chairman said Sunday.
Dobson, one of several religious leaders enlisted by the White House to shore up support for Miers among conservatives unhappy with her nomination, has been mired in the confirmation process since endorsing her on his radio program Oct. 5. Dobson implied to listeners that he had privileged information from White House adviser Karl Rove.
“When you know some of the things that I know, that I probably shouldn’t know, that take me in this direction, you will understand why I have said, with fear and trepidation, why I have said that I believe Harriett Miers will be a good justice,” Dobson said.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., immediately threatened to force Dobson to testify about whether there were any “backroom deals” with religious conservatives. Specter expressed particular interest in any assurance that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to abortion, in exchange for their support.
Dobson went back on the radio Oct. 11 to claim that he and Rove didn’t specifically discuss how Miers might vote on Roe v. Wade. He said he received information from both Rove and others that she is an evangelical Christian who belongs to a pro-life church.
On Sunday (Oct. 24), Specter gave the clearest signal to date that Dobson might be subpoenaed to testify before the 18-member Senate Judiciary Committee. Asked on “Face the Nation” on CBS whether he thinks “some of these people who said they were told things that perhaps they shouldn’t have been told, like Mr. Dobson” should be brought before the committee, Specter said, “My instinct is that they’ll be called, and the American people are entitled to clarification.”
Specter’s new comments followed a column in last Monday’s Wall Street Journal describing a conference call on Oct. 3, the day that President Bush announced the nomination of Miers to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, of religious conservatives discussing the nomination.
Columnist John Fund said he obtained extensive notes taken by one of 13 people on the call, all members of the executive committee of the Arlington Group, an umbrella alliance of 60 religious right organizations.
According to the report, Don Wildmon of the American Family Association moderated the call. Participants included Gary Bauer of Religious Values, Tony Perkins of the American Family Association, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
Dobson was reportedly asked to introduce Justice Nathan Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court and Judge Ed Kinkeade, a Dallas-based federal trial judge, both long-time acquaintances of Miers, to the group.
According to the notes of the call, Dobson introduced them by saying, “Karl Rove suggested that we talk with these gentlemen, because they can confirm specific reasons why Harriet Miers might be a better candidate than some of us think.”
A free-wheeling discussion followed about many topics, until an unidentified voice asked the two men, “Based on your personal knowledge of her, if she had the opportunity, do you believe she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?”
“Absolutely,” said Judge Kinkeade.
“I agree with that,” said Justice Hecht. “I concur.”
Not long after that, according to the report, Dobson apologized and said he had to leave the discussion.
“That’s all I need to know, and I will get off and make some calls,” he reportedly said.
Fund said he asked Dobson about some of the comments in the notes, and Dobson confirmed some of them and said it was “very possible” he made the others. Dobson said he did not specifically recall the comments of the two judges on Roe v. Wade.
Kinkeade declined to discuss the call, and Hecht told the Journal that he said to the group Miers was “pro-life,” but when someone asked about whether she would overturn Roe v. Wade his answer was “I don’t know.”
Others who also participated, according to Fund, confirmed that both judges said Miers would vote to overturn Roe. While the implication was the judges were speaking on behalf of themselves and not Miers or the White House, participants said they took it as assurance that she would come down against Roe vs. Wade.
According to a transcript of his Oct. 11 program, Dobson said his conversation took place with Rove on Oct. 1, before Miers’ nomination was announced. Dobson said Rove told him that Miers’ name was on a short list of candidates and assured him she fit the description of a “strict constructionist,” who would interpret the law and not make social policy from the bench.
Dobson’s first statement after the announcement was that based on information generally known about Miers and Bush’s personal knowledge of her, “Harriet Miers appears to be an outstanding nominee for the Supreme Court.” Dobson added a caveat, however, “One cannot know absolutely about matters of integrity and philosophy until a jurist is given the tremendous power and influence of their position” and said, “We look forward to learning more about her at the confirmation hearings.
On his Oct. 5 broadcast, Dobson said based on what he knew, he believed Miers was an “outstanding selection,” but he was bound by confidentiality not to reveal all his reasons. “I can only say so much and after that say those are confidential conversations and contacts and I can’t go very far in that direction, and I won’t violate that,” he said.
Describing the Oct. 3 conference call with other religious leaders, Dobson said Oct. 11 that he joined the discussion a little late and heard “a bit of angst” about Bush’s failure to select someone with a proven track record in the courts.
“Then I shared my opinion, that Harriet Miers might well be more in keeping with our views than they might think and that I did believe that she was a far better choice than many of my colleagues were saying and that they obviously believed,” Dobson said.
Dobson said that in addition to Rove, he talked to judges Kinkeade and Hecht about Miers, but he didn’t mention they were in on the conference call.
Dobson said his reference to things “I probably shouldn’t know” meant that Rove told him details that were not yet public, and it wasn’t Dobson’s place to disclose the information. After most of the facts were made public, he said, Rove released Dobson from his confidentiality pledge.
He insists that he and Rove never discussed Miers’ view on Roe v. Wade.
“We did not discuss Roe v. Wade in any context or any other pending issue that will be considered by the court,” Dobson said. “I did not ask that question. You know, to be honest, I would have loved to have known how Harriet Miers views Roe v. Wade. But even if Karl had known the answer to that, and I’m certain that he didn’t, because the president himself said he didn’t know, Karl would not have told me that. That’s the most incendiary information that’s out there and it was never part of our discussion.”
Another reported participant in the Oct. 3 conference call, the SBC’s Richard Land, is unwavering in his support for Miers, saying Bush has earned the support of conservatives with four-and-a-half years of “superb nominees” for judicial selections.
“If he tells us that Harriet Miers is a strict constructionist, original intent jurist who is going to interpret the law and not seek to legislate and make law from the bench, I believe he has earned the right to our trust until there is demonstrable evidence to the contrary,” Land said, quoted in Baptist Press.
According to Bloomberg.com Oct. 9, Land said Rove also called him to discuss Miers, but gave no signal as to how Miers views Roe v. Wade.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.