Photo By David Robert U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s role in the Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices has become a target of conservative groups.

On July 19, a few minutes before George Bush announced his nomination of John Roberts to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice, he put in a call to U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada to inform him.

During that conversation, Reid mentioned to Bush that he had enjoyed working with Bush’s lawyer Harriet Miers while the search process for a new justice was going on.

On Tuesday Bush nominated Miers to the court, too.

Reid’s initial reaction was to reserve judgment until Miers’ record is explored: “I look forward to the Judiciary Committee process which will help the American people learn more about Harriet Miers, and help the Senate determine whether she deserves a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court.”

Reid did, however, praise Miers. “I like Harriet Miers. As White House counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. … In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer. The current justices have all been chosen from the lower federal courts. A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the Court.”

Even before Bush nominated Miers, conservative forces were trying to publicly frame U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s role.

Miers was nominated on Oct. 3. On Sept. 28, Nevada Republican Party chair Earlene Forsythe issued a statement that sought to link Reid to Howard Dean: “Now that Howard Dean is calling for a filibuster against a nominee who hasn’t been nominated, Democrats will have to decide who it is that is controlling their agenda. The confirmation of Judge John Roberts has been a distinguished bipartisan evaluation of a clearly qualified man and should not be used as a reason to smear the next nominee. Playing politics with Supreme Court nominees to appease the far-left special interests is reprehensible political posturing that all Americans hope Senate Democrats can rise above. I call on Senator Reid to tell the citizens of Nevada whether he is taking orders from Howard Dean and the liberal left, or whether he is standing up for voters in our state.”

Reid has had a prickly relationship with Dean. He has been critical of some of Dean’s public statements, but has supported him since he was elected—over Reid’s opposition—as Democratic national chair. Dean, in turn, has publicly disagreed with Reid about court appointments.

Reid voted against chief justice nominee John Roberts last week after rejecting any plans for a filibuster against Roberts.

“Each Democrat considered the nomination on the merits and approached the vote as a matter of conscience,” Reid told the Senate. “Democrats have not employed any procedural tactics that we might have otherwise considered if the nominee were more extreme.” But Reid made no such commitment on Bush’s nomination for the second court vacancy.

On Sept. 29, Christine Milburn, Nevada coordinator of Up or Down Vote, distributed a news release that said a television commercial would be broadcast to pressure senators to give any Bush nominee an “up-or-down vote.” The term refers to the GOP desire not to let a Bush nominee be stopped in committee or by a filibuster in the full Senate.

Milburn said, “I think Nevadans are tired of the partisan politics especially as it relates to the highest court in the nation. … Let us allow the process to work with our next qualified nominee. A fair up or down vote after hearings is the only way for our citizens to trust bipartisan Senate consultations.”

Milburn said Tuesday the name of her group has been changed to Nevada for Justice Miers.

The PFA television spot announced by Milburn, which can be viewed at http://upordownvote.com, is softer than spots put on the air in some markets by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family. In Alaska, the Dobson spots attacked Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Democrat, for being “likely to” align herself with Democratic senators on the next nominee. The spot backfired, drawing criticism from Alaska’s GOP senator Ted Stevens.

Milburn’s group is an arm of the conservative political group Project of Progress for America Inc., which says it operates in 20 states.

In Reno, one insurance agency responded to the Miers nomination by accelerating its distribution to its customers of a booklet it has been handing out for several months, “Supreme Injustice,” published by Catholic Answers of El Cajon, Calif. The booklet argues for Supreme Court justices who will vote conservative on what it calls the “five non-negotiables”—abortion, euthanasia (assisted suicide), stem-cell research, cloning, and gay marriage.

“Because governments rule on the Lord’s behalf, they are accountable to him and must frame their laws in conformity with God’s law,” it says. “What many do not realize is that, with the number of Supreme Court justices expected to retire in the next few years, their replacements could provide the votes needed to overturn Roe [v. Wade]. … The forces who want to democratic process subverted—those who want to keep Christians from making progress on the five non-negotiables and who want to impose an agenda of militant secularism on American—are prepared for battle.”

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...