The White House tried Wednesday to patch a growing fissure in the Republican Party over Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers by pointing to her conservative religious beliefs. "Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," President Bush said.
Bush defended his nomination, saying Miers was highly qualified, a trailblazer in the law in Texas and someone who would strictly interpret the Constitution, something his conservative supporters desire.
He said his advisers' comments about Miers' churchgoing were meant to give people a better understanding of his little-known nominee.
"People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers," he said. "They want to know Harriet Miers' background. They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. Part of Harriet Miers' life is her religion," reports CBS.
According to the AP, that comment further inflamed critics of the nomination who contend Miers' religion is being used to sell the nominee to the right flank of Bush's conservative base. They argue that the president is asking them to trust him and blindly support his nomination even though Miers has no judicial record that would offer insight into how she would vote on the high court.
On a radio show broadcast Wednesday, James Dobson, founder of the conservative Focus on the Family, said that before Miers was nominated, deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove reassured him that she was an "evangelical Christian, that she is from a very conservative church, which is almost universally pro-life."
Religion was an area the White House carefully avoided in pushing the chief justice nomination of John Roberts just a month ago. During his confirmation hearings, Roberts sought to assure senators that his rulings would be guided by his understanding of the facts of cases, the law and the Constitution, not by his personal views. "My faith and my religious beliefs do not play a role," said Roberts, who is Catholic.
"The White House and the religious right leaders rallying around the beleaguered nomination of Harriet Miers continue to cite her religious beliefs and the church she attends as reasons to believe she will oppose abortion rights and to bolster support for her among activists on the far right," said Ralph Neas, director of the liberal People for the American Way. "What's wrong for John Roberts can't be right for Harriet Miers."