Defenders of Oregon's assisted-suicide law are worried about the U.S. Supreme Court's upcoming decision on the law, because court nominee Harriet Miers could have a vote on it.
In recent years, the court has flashed a penchant for 5-4 splits, and the justice Miers would replace, Sandra Day O'Connor, has usually been the swing vote. This makes Miers' potential impact "extraordinarily profound," says Professor John Kroger of Lewis & Clark Law School.
So how worried should the 60 percent of Oregon voters who supported the assisted-suicide law in 1997 be? And what about the fate of another hot-button issue, abortion, in Oregon, one of only 10 states to get an "A" rating in abortion rights from the pro-choice group NARAL?
Before the Senate takes up President Bush's nomination of Miers, advocates such as Compassion in Dying, a pro-assisted-suicide group, and Oregon NARAL are taking a wait-and-see stance. Law-school professors say Miers, a White House counsel with no history as a judge, is a cipher-or as Kroger puts it, a "huge gray area."
"Unlike with the [John] Roberts nomination, we don't have enough information," says Rebecca Green of Oregon NARAL. "But Miers has been an integral member of the most anti-choice administration in history, [so] while we're not drawing a conclusion one way or another, we have concerns."
Indeed, the evidence is speculative. As the life and death this year of Terri Schiavo showed, conservative Christians tend to extend their pro-life beliefs beyond fetuses to oppose the assisted suicide of adults near death (see "The Murder of Death with Dignity," WW, Nov. 14, 2001).
And some pro-life Christians have given Miers, a born-again Christian who is reportedly pro-life, their stamp of approval. Conservative Christian leader James Dobson recently indicated to his followers that top Bush adviser Karl Rove assured him that if Roe v. Wade came up again, Miers would vote their way.
So whatever Miers' judicial philosophy, as George Eighmey of Compassion in Dying puts it, "Sometimes that's out the window" when religion enters the picture.
In the hearing on Oregon's assisted-suicide law last week, O'Connor seemed pretty squarely in favor of the state's law.
But if O'Connor is replaced by Miers before the justices publish their decision, any tie vote could fall to the new justice to settle. The current assisted-suicide case stems from the administration's attempt to ban the practice, and Eighmey says there is evidence that Miers was part of the White House team that shaped that assault.
If Miers has fundamentalist religious beliefs, "Those would certainly influence her," says Art LaFrance, another Lewis & Clark law professor. "I would think that her views would reflect those of the president-but that's speculation. I think it's very hard to predict."
Similarly, Miers could weigh in on two reproductive-rights cases this fall that NARAL says could undercut Roe v. Wade.
So what are the odds on her confirmation? Given the hubbub over her lack of credentials, says LaFrance, "I think there's a real chance that she won't get appointed."
Kroger, a former Congressional aide on Capitol Hill and a former adviser to President Bill Clinton, disagrees. "I think the Democrats fear that any [other] Bush choice would be worse.... I would expect the Democrats will grease the wheels on this thing." Harriet the spy? Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers offers little info on which way her vote might swing.