Senate Democrats are reacting cautiously to the nomination of White House Lawyer Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, saying they want more information about her views before deciding whether to support the nominee.
Ms. Miers wasted no time in seeking the support of Senate members as her confirmation process begins.
Shortly after President Bush announced her nomination, Ms. Miers arrived on Capitol Hill for meetings with Senators, including Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who vowed the Senate would conduct fair confirmation proceedings:
"It will be dignified, it will be civil, it will be disciplined, and I am sure it will be tough in many ways," he said.
Senator Frist is among many lawmakers who believe that confirmation hearings for Ms. Miers may be more difficult than those for Chief Justice Roberts, who took the bench for the first time Monday with the opening of a new Supreme Court session.
While the conservative Justice Roberts replaced another conservative, the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Ms. Miers would replace the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who often cast the deciding vote on the sharply divided court. So Ms. Miers could shift the balance of power on the nine-justice court.
It is for that reason that Democrats plan to press the nominee about her judicial philosophy. They note that Ms. Miers has never been a judge, so she does not have a record of written legal opinions.
"There is hope that Harriet Miers is a mainstream nominee," said Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat. "A very preliminary review shows nothing in her record that would indicate that she would not be. But there is very little in her record that indicates she would be, as well. We just do not know very much."
Senator Schumer last week had vowed to use procedural tactics to block any nominee that he believes is outside the political mainstream.
Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will conduct the confirmation hearings, expressed concern in a written statement that Ms. Miers might be too close an ally of President Bush to be a truly independent justice.
But Senate Democratic Leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, welcomed the nomination.
"Harriet Miers has served with distinction as a trial lawyer," he said. "That is what I am, I am a trial lawyer. So anyone with that background makes me feel good."
Majority Leader Frist says he hopes the Senate can schedule a confirmation vote by the Thanksgiving Day holiday in late November.
But the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said he would not commit to a deadline, saying conducting thorough hearings would be his first priority. Those hearings are expected to begin in the coming weeks.