Religious Give and Take on Court Nominee

James Dobson, head of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family, is thrilled over President Bush's pick to be an associate justice in the Supreme Court.

But after statements from Bush that one of White House counsel Harriet Miers' top selling points was her evangelical Christian faith, Jewish groups are collectively wondering aloud what exactly that means.

The fact that many Republicans are publicly asking the same questions could portend a rocky confirmation battle for Miers, who has never held a judgeship, but is a member of Valley View Christian Church in Dallas.

"I think there is a lot of disappointment that the president didn't put someone up there with a record we could examine," Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) said last week on "The Michael Smerconish Show" on WPHT-AM (1210).

But Santorum, the third-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate, went beyond mere distancing himself from the president.

The two-term senator – embroiled right now in a re-election fight against Democratic state Treasurer Robert P. Casey Jr. – took a jab at Bush over the Miers nomination.

"It is what I term the president's second faith-based initiative, which is 'trust me,' " he said. "I think, candidly, we deserve better than that."

Philadelphia-based political analyst Larry Ceisler said Santorum's comments had much to do with his battle against Casey.

"His problem in Pennsylvania is he's seen as walking in lock step with the president," said Ceisler. "But there is a right-wing chorus expressing disappointment and possible rejection over this nomination."

The Real Issues
Unlike the recent nomination of Judge John G. Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court – he sailed through his confirmation hearings – groups on both sides of the aisle are a bit flummoxed over Miers' lack of a judicial record. Complicating matters are statements from conservatives such as Dobson that they've been assured by the White House that Miers would vote against Roe v. Wade.

The prospect of anyone being assured how a Supreme Court pick might vote on any issue has Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee up in arms.

But it was Bush's recent defense of Miers – the president told reporters on Oct. 12 that religious faith was one of the reasons he nominated her – that has Jewish officials worried.

"We think that's entirely inappropriate," Nathan Diament, head of the Orthodox Union's Washington office, told the Forward regarding the emphasis on Miers' convictions. "Just as we've insisted that a nominee's faith not be held against them, a nominee's faith is not the sole criterion for saying a nominee is fit for office, either."

Phyllis Snyder, president of the National Council of Jewish Women, agreed, though she added that in the absence of any record, everyone's at a loss when it comes to forming impressions.

"Her religion should have no impact on her qualifications," affirmed Snyder. "What we're concerned with is her stands on the freedoms we care about."



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