Washington--U.S. Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers gave mixed answers on same-sex rights in a questionnaire she filled out from a Texas gay rights group during her successful 1989 run for the Dallas City Council.
She told the group she believed gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as straight Americans, but that she opposed repeal of the state's sodomy law criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct.
The Supreme Court struck down the sodomy law on a 6-3 vote in 2003 in the case of Lawrence v. Texas.
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whom Miers has been nominated to replace, voted with the majority in the ruling, which effectively erased sodomy laws in 13 other states.
The Texas revelations came the same day President Bush fielded questions from reporters at the White House about his nomination of Miers, including whether he had discussed abortion with her.
"Not to my recollection have I ever sat down with her [to discuss abortion]," Bush said Tuesday at his first solo press conference since May. "What I have done is understand the type of person she is and the type of judge she will be."
[inline:1]The president said he has never discussed abortion with any of his judicial nominees. "There is no litmus test," he said.
Bush also defended the 60-year-old Miers, who came to Washington with him from Texas in 2001 and has been White House counsel since February, against Democratic charges of cronyism and questions about her conservative record, saying she shares his legal philosophy.
"I picked the best person I could find," said Bush, who nominated Miers on Monday. "People are going to be amazed at her strength of character and her intellect."
During her campaign for a seat the Dallas City Council, Miers filled out a questionnaire by the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas and interviewed with the group, according to Louise Young, a founding member who kept a copy in the now-defunct organization's archives.
"I remember her screening quite well. I remembered before I found the questionnaire that some of her answers were, so to speak, 'good' -- it was a good answer to believe in civil rights," Young said.
Even so, Miers declined to seek the group's endorsement, which Young said she found "very odd."
In the questionnaire, Miers was asked: "Do you believe that gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as non-gay men and women?" Her response was "Yes," without any elaboration.
Asked about the sodomy law, Miers said she did not support its repeal and did not support including repeal as part of the city's agenda before the state Legislature.
Miers did tell the coalition she believed Dallas had a responsibility to fund AIDS education and patient support services, adding she would support increased funding for such services.
"I do consider the AIDS illness as a serious total community problem," Miers said, underlining the word "total."
Asked if she would support a city ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on HIV/AIDS status, Miers said she would prefer the state Legislature address the issue.
She gave the same answer when asked if she supported an ordinance prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, religion, age, sex, national origin, AIDS/HIV status or disability.
"I do not have all the facts on the significance of these ordinances; however, I am willing to discuss the need and make an appropriate decision when fully advised," Miers wrote.
Miers did not answer directly when asked whether she believed qualified gay men and lesbians should be denied city employment because of their sexual orientation, including jobs as police officers and firefighters.
"I believe that employers should be able to pick the best qualified person for any position to be filled considering all relevant factors," Miers wrote, not saying whether she believed sexual orientation would be relevant.
Although Young said Miers, a Dallas native, "never did anything anti-gay" during her two years on the City Council from 1989 to 1991, she also "never did anything friendly to the community."
Asked how she thinks Miers might deal with gay and lesbian issues on the Supreme Court, Young said, "If you can just imagine me with a large question mark over my head -- that's really my impression."
Joe Solomonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and lesbian rights group, said he was "cautiously optimistic" the questionnaire shows Miers would have an "open mind" on gay rights issues.
"It's a small window, but it's a window into the heart of this woman who in 1989 was not thinking about serving on the Supreme Court," he said.
The court and gay rights
Conservative critics of the Supreme Court -- many of whom have expressed unease about Miers' nomination -- often highlight Lawrence v. Texas as evidence of what they see as the high court's propensity to legislate from the bench.
In her concurring opinion in Lawrence, O'Connor said "a law branding one class of persons as criminal solely based on the state's moral disapproval of that class and the conduct associated with that class runs contrary to the values of the Constitution and the Equal Protection Clause, under any standard of review."
Even stalwart conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, while voting to uphold the Texas law, said he would vote to repeal it if he were sitting in Austin, the state capital, as a legislator.
"Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through non-commercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources," Thomas said.
Justice Antonin Scalia, in a vigorous dissent to the ruling, said "many Americans do not want persons who openly engage in homosexual conduct as partners in their business, as scoutmasters for their children, as teachers in their children's schools or as borders in their home."
"They view this as protecting themselves and their families from a lifestyle that they believe to be immoral and destructive," Scalia said.
In addition to Thomas and Scalia, the other vote to uphold Texas' sodomy law came from the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose seat is now filled by John Roberts.