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Miers supported constitutional amendment banning abortion

WASHINGTON (BP)–Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers supported a constitutional amendment banning nearly all abortions — the lone exception being to save the life of the mother — while running for Dallas City Council in 1989.

Miers’ past views on the amendment came to light Oct. 18 when she returned a 57-page questionnaire along with other materials to the Senate, which is expected to conduct confirmation hearings in November. As part of the Senate material, Miers included a form she filled out for the Texans United for Life Political Action Committee, which was screening candidates in order to determine which ones to endorse.

Asked by the pro-life group if she would “actively support” the ratification of a Human Life Amendment in the Texas legislature if it first passed Congress, Miers checked “yes.” According to the form, the amendment to the U.S. Constitution would have banned abortion except when it was necessary to save the life of the mother. Miers — currently serving as White House chief counsel — won a seat on the Dallas City Council in 1989.

The organization now is known as the Texans for Life Coalition. Its president, Kyleen Wright, told Baptist Press that she does not know whether Miers was given an endorsement, although in light of her answers Miers “very likely” would have received it. The form included 10 questions. Miers checked “yes” to every question on the form, essentially giving her a 100 percent pro-life score.

“I’m very encouraged [by Miers’ answers]. I’m thrilled to death,” said Wright, who previously had not seen the form and was an organization board member in 1989. “… Normally we never polled city council candidates. That tells me she came looking for our endorsement.”

Wright said the pro-life questionnaire signals a “much higher level of commitment” to the pro-life cause than a $150 contribution Miers gave to the organization the same year — a contribution that was revealed the day Miers was nominated by President Bush. Such contributions, Wright said, could have been made by candidates who simply were looking for support from pro-lifers. But the questionnaire, she said, would not have been filled out simply for “political expediency.”

A cover letter to the pro-life questionnaire also mentions a meeting that Miers was to have attended in April 1989 with members of the group’s political action committee. Wright said she does not know who attended the meeting or even if it was held.

On the form Miers agreed that she would:

— Refuse the endorsement of any pro-choice organization.

— Use her influence as a city council member “to promote the pro-life cause.”

— Participate in pro-life rallies and events.

— Oppose the use of public money to fund abortion, except when necessary to save the life of the mother.

— Vote against the appointment of pro-choice people to city boards and committees that deal with health issues — “to the extent” that their “pro-life views are relevant.”

The Texans United for Life questionnaire is but the latest bit of information social conservatives are mulling over, trying to determine the extent of her pro-life views.

Miers also attended several pro-life events, although it is not known how many.

In addition, in the early 1990s Miers led an unsuccessful effort to try and get the American Bar Association to change its position on Roe v. Wade from supportive to neutral. Roe is the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Miers also is a member of a pro-life church in Texas.

Despite the pro-life revelations, Miers’ nomination has split social conservatives, some of whom say little is known about her judicial philosophy and argue that her personal beliefs would not necessarily lead to a pro-life ruling. Miers, 60, has never served as a judge.

Her answers to a Senate question about “judicial activism” could provide a clue as to her views. In the 57-page questionnaire, Miers spent more than two pages outlining her views on the judiciary.

“The role of the judiciary in our system of government is limited,” she wrote. “While its role and its independence are essential to the proper functioning of our tripartite system of government, the courts cannot be the solution to society’s ills, and the independence of the courts provides no license for them to be free-wheeling. And, of course, parties should not be able to establish social policy through court action, having failed to persuade the legislative branch or the executive branch of the wisdom and correctness of their preferred course. Courts are to be arbiters of disputes, not policy makers. As has been said many times, the role of the courts is to interpret law and not to make it.”

Judicial activism, Miers said, can occur in several instances, including when a judge ignores the principles of precedent and stare decisis — a legal principle that says a court should not overturn its own decision unless there is a strong reason to do so. Stare decisis is at the heart of the debate over whether Roe should be overturned. But Miers said the doctrine of stare decisis is not absolute.

“Humility and self-restraint require the judiciary to adhere to its limited role and recognize that where applicable precedent exists, courts are not free to ignore it,” Miers wrote. “Mere disagreement with a result is insufficient to justify ignoring applicable precedent, but reconsideration under appropriate circumstances is also necessary. There are clear examples, like Brown v. Board of Education, where revisiting precedent is not only right, it is prudent. Any decision to revisit a precedent should follow only the most careful consideration of the factors that courts have deemed relevant to that question.

“Thus, whether the prior decision is wrong is only the beginning of the inquiry. The court must also consider other factors, such as whether the prior decision has proven unworkable, whether developments in the law have undermined the precedent, and whether legitimate reliance interests militate against overruling.”

Miers called the principle of judicial review — in which the Supreme Court can overturn laws passed by Congress — “a tremendous power exercised by judges who are not accountable to the electorate.”

“Because their power is so great, and because it is largely unchecked, judges must be vigilant in exercising their power in a humble, prudent, and limited way,” she wrote.

She also said “we must zealously guard … the independence of the courts.”

Following is the text of the questionnaire Miers submitted to the Texans United for Life Political Action Committee in 1989:

1. If Congress passes a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit abortion except when it was necessary to prevent the death of the mother, would you actively support its ratification by the Texas Legislature?


2. If the Supreme Courts returns to the states the right to restrict abortion, would you actively support legislation that would reinstate our 1973 abortion law that prohibited all abortions except those necessary to prevent the death of the mother?


3. Will you oppose the use of public monies for abortion except where necessary to prevent the death of the mother?


4. Will you oppose the use of city funds or facilities by any persons, groups, clinics or organizations to promote, encourage or provide referrals for abortions?


5. Will you vote against the appointment of pro-abortion persons to city boards or committees that deal with health issues?

Yes. (To the extent pro-life views are relevant.)

6. Would you refuse the endorsement of any organization that supports abortion-on-demand?


7. Will you participate in press conferences to promote the goals of the pro-life movement?


8. Will you use your influence as an elected official within the confines of your oath of office to promote the pro-life cause?


9. Will you participate in pro-life rallies and special events?


10. What other ways can you think of in which you could use your office to promote the pro-life cause? (Use the back.) Would you like to be considered for an endorsement by our PAC?


    About the Author

  • Michael Foust