Nation’s Top Pro-Life Judicial Activist Speaks Out on John McCain

Deal W. Hudson
February 5, 2008

Manny Miranda is recognized as the leading national activist for conservative judicial appointments. He surprised people by endorsing Sen. John McCain for president, in spite of criticism of the Arizona senator’s role in the “Gang of 14,” a bipartisan effort to deal with the Senate backlog of Bush’s judicial nominees.

As a staffer in the Senate, Miranda orchestrated the efforts and debates over the best-known judicial nominees of the Bush administration, including the unprecedented seven-week effort for Miguel Estrada, as well Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, and Bill Pryor, whose nomination exposed the anti-Catholic phobia of Senate Democrats.

Miranda organized the National Coalition to End Judicial Filibusters and forced the Senate Republican leadership to address the “constitutional option” in anticipation of a Supreme Court nomination.

As chairman of the Third Branch Conference, Miranda led the conservative and values-voter movements on the nominations of John Roberts, Harriet Miers, and Sam Alito. At the 2006 CPAC, the American Conservative Union awarded Miranda the Ronald Reagan Award for these efforts, but especially in leading the opposition to the Miers nomination, a defining moment in the relationship between conservatives and President Bush.

As David Keene put it, “Sam Alito would not be on the Supreme Court were it not for Miranda.”

In 2007, Miranda joined the Department of State in Baghdad for a year as a senior adviser to the Iraqi prime minister’s legal office and the Government of Iraq on the legislative process. In Baghdad, Miranda established the Office of Legislative Statecraft aimed at assisting the key points of the Iraqi legislative stream. He also counseled the Iraq and Kurdistan Bars on reform of the Iraqi legal profession, and brought the boards of the two bars together for the first time, brokering a written agreement between them to reconcile and walk together into the future.

I asked Miranda about his endorsement of McCain, in light of criticism from prominent conservatives and radio show hosts.

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Deal W. Hudson: You endorsed John McCain – why do you think he can be trusted on the issues of importance to Catholics, such as abortion, marriage, and the appointment of judges?

Manny Miranda: It is not something the media likes to admit, but John McCain has had a consistent voting record on pro-life matters. Like Justice Scalia, he believes that abortion rights need to be de-federalized and returned to the states. On judges, he was a good soldier in the fights over the president’s most controversial nominees and our efforts to hold Democrats to account for their obstruction. Senator McCain will not need on-the-job training on the fight for the federal courts and the strict reading of the Constitution.

DH: But McCain has been criticized for being part of the Gang of 14, who supposedly blocked some of Bush’s judicial nominations. How do you respond to that as someone who worked closely on judicial confirmations?

MM: The truth is that Senator McCain formed the Gang of 14 at the request of Senate leaders who wanted to avoid the “nuclear option” and use it only if Democrats filibustered the expected vacancies on the Supreme Court in 2005. It was an unpleasant compromise, but it also produced confirmation votes on Priscilla Owen, Bill Pryor, and others.

If anyone should be faulted, it is Senate Republican leaders and their staffs who were hesitant about returning Senate rules to the constitutional requirements.

DH: John Fund and Bob Novak have reported that McCain insinuated on a conference call that Justice Alito was “too conservative.” Do you have any information on that incident, whether it happened or has been misrepresented?

MM: I am always suspicious of sources who recall something months after an event and the day before a primary, and who will not reveal themselves. If I heard that comment I would say so. But even if that comment made in a casual setting were true – and Senator McCain denies making it – it is contrary to all that the senator has said publicly and consistently on Alito at the time of the confirmation debate, and now when millions are listening. Even if true, I know firsthand that senators often say a number of things in small settings to see others’ reaction.

Who knows? What I know is that I was taught to judge people by their actions and the words that they have to standby. This is a pittance as compared to the total makeover of other candidates.

DH: The Washington Post reported yesterday a comment supposedly made before the South Carolina primary that McCain “doesn’t care” about the social issues. Did that comment alarm you?

MM: Not at all. I have heard that comment before. It is like saying that he favored Arizona in his Senate career. A legislator has to pick what issues he will take on and devote his time and staff resources to, and represent the interests of his state. Senator McCain has clearly chosen national defense, lower government spending, and a host of mainline Republican issues. Clearly, he is not comfortable in leading some issues; and why should he, when others like Tom Coburn and Sam Brownback are better suited to the task – two senators who support John McCain for president?

As president, he will have to have a government that will deal with all the issues and governs a whole country. He will need to reach out and build winning coalitions, and that will include social conservatives, libertarians, and Democrats. He will also have to pick a running mate who balances the ticket on that issue, just as candidates used to pick running mates for geographic balance.

DH: Romney and his supporters are bashing McCain for not being a conservative. Do you think that is accurate?

MM: John McCain has an American Conservative Union voting record of over 90 percent, as good or better than any other Republican senator. The fact that as a legislator he has worked with Democrats on some issues does not make him a liberal – it makes him an experienced legislator. It is easy for those who have lived safe and profitable careers to shoot at the man in the arena. If he reduces government spending alone, John McCain will have completed Ronald Reagan’s work.

DH: Did the time you spent in Iraq have anything to do with your endorsement of McCain?

MM: Yes. John McCain inspires confidence in our troops as no other candidate does. He understands what is happening in Iraq and what the ultimate mission must achieve better than any. This is not a moment for on-the-job training on complex issues for Republicans, just as it is not a time to pass the baton to Democrats who just do not get it. When I think of the next president, I think about our danger – for me, it is real, present, just as it was every day the Embassy was shelled in Baghdad. I think of my son’s life and future, and I am ready to entrust that only to John McCain.

DH: Do you think McCain has any special appeal to Catholic voters?

MM: John McCain is a man who has known great personal tragedy, including solitary and family challenges that few could withstand, and he has done so without despair or surrender. His devotion and loyalty to his family, including all his adopted children, is something that we as Catholics should admire. His private and public life is led by a clear priority of issues, and highest among these is the love of country and family. He does not politic on his faith or values, but he has instead put these into action and a lifetime of service.

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