WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter emerged from a lengthy meeting yesterday with Supreme Court nominee Harriet E. Miers saying she told him she believes that the Constitution includes a right to privacy, an account of the meeting White House officials later disputed.
"She said she believes there is a right to privacy in the Constitution," the Pennsylvania Republican said after a meeting with Miers that lasted an hour and 40 minutes. He said that she supported the Supreme Court's decisions in Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird, cases that established a right of privacy for married and unmarried couples to use contraception.
The right to privacy enshrined in those cases was the foundation for the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman's right to end a pregnancy. Since then, legal discussions of privacy rights often serve as a proxy for the constitutionality of a right to abortion.
Specter said he considered Miers' comments "relevant but not determinative" of how she might rule on abortion issues should she win confirmation to the high court.
Last night, White House officials said Specter had misunderstood Miers.
"In their meeting this afternoon, Sen. Specter thought Ms. Harriet Miers said she agreed with Griswold v. Connecticut and there was a right to privacy in the Constitution," Specter spokesman William Reynolds wrote in an e-mail to reporters. "After Sen. Specter commented on that to the news media, Ms. Miers called him to say that he misunderstood her and that she had not taken a position on Griswold or the privacy issue. Sen. Specter accepts Ms. Miers' statement that he misunderstood what she said."
The Constitution does not contain an explicit protection of privacy, and scholars differ over whether a privacy protection is implicit in other rights. In recent years, most have said they believe the Constitution does protect privacy.
All the same, Specter's initial assertion was expected to raise alarms among social conservatives who have opposed Miers' nomination, saying they would prefer a nominee with a clearer anti-abortion record.
White House officials launched a new strategy yesterday aimed at overcoming opposition to Miers by trying to shift focus from her biography - and her lack of judicial experience - and draw attention instead to her "qualifications."
"We're looking forward now, with an understanding of the importance of the decisions that will be made, whether she's qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. And that's based on her qualifications, her experience and her temperament," said a senior administration official.
White House officials denied that aides to the president had any role in a telephone conference call on Oct. 3, the day Bush nominated Miers, in which two confidants of Miers are alleged to have said that she would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. The conference call was first reported yesterday in an opinion article by John Fund in the Wall Street Journal.
Maura Reynolds and Edwin Chen write for the Los Angeles Times.