White House Counsel Miers Chosen for Court
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
President Bush nominated Harriet Ellan Miers, his White House counsel and former personal attorney, to the Supreme Court yesterday, choosing a woman who broke barriers in the male-dominated Texas legal world but brings no judicial experience or constitutional background to her new assignment.
Bush announced his choice for the nation's 110th justice from the Oval Office shortly before the court opened its new term under newly installed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. In Bush's nationally televised statement, he simultaneously introduced Miers and defended her legal résumé, which came under immediate attack from some conservative groups.
In succeeding Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, one of the court's swing voters, Miers would be in a position to move it decisively to the right. Bush said she would bring a distinctive perspective to the high court while strictly interpreting the Constitution and not legislating from the bench.
"In selecting a nominee, I've sought to find an American of grace, judgment and unwavering devotion to the Constitution and laws of our country. Harriet Miers is just such a person," Bush said. "I've known Harriet for more than a decade. I know her heart. I know her character."
The White House appeared to be seeking a smooth confirmation process, bypassing candidates with more established conservative bona fides at a time when Bush is beset with political problems including the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina. Based on advance soundings with Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and conservative leader James C. Dobson, the White House calculated that Miers would draw broad support.
But yesterday's response to the nominee left that open to doubt. There was widespread dissent among Bush's usual allies on the right, who questioned whether the 60-year-old former corporate lawyer possessed the distinguished qualifications and conservative credentials they are looking for in a court nominee. "It could well be that she is in the tradition of Clarence Thomas or Antonin Scalia, as the president has promised," said Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America. "The problem is that those of us who were looking for some tangible evidence of that have none, and we can't come out of the box supporting her."
Advocates on the left and their allies in the Senate also urged caution, pronouncing Miers's judicial philosophy and constitutional views a mystery. "We know next to nothing about the legal philosophy of the person President Bush has selected to replace Justice O'Connor casting the deciding votes on the most difficult issues confronting our nation," said Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). "America can't afford a replay of the unrevealing confirmation process that preceded Chief Justice Roberts's confirmation."
White House officials yesterday were emphasizing previous praise Miers had won from Democrats. As part of a bipartisan delegation of Senate leaders at the White House on Sept. 21, Reid told Bush that Miers "is worthy of consideration," according to aides of people at the meeting, and the senator spoke warmly of her yesterday -- though without making any specific commitment to support her. Some Senate Democrats privately expressed dismay that Reid had given the White House cover for a nominee they expect to oppose.
Bush described Miers, who if confirmed would be the third woman to sit on the Supreme Court, as a legal pioneer who repeatedly overcame gender barriers to reach the highest levels of her profession. Before being named White House counsel last year, she served as White House deputy chief of staff as well as staff secretary, a job in which she reviewed virtually every document that went before the president.
Before joining the Bush administration, Miers was Bush's personal attorney in Texas and served as general counsel of his gubernatorial campaign committee. As governor, Bush appointed Miers chairman of the scandal-plagued Texas Lottery Commission, where she earned a reputation as a tough manager after firing two executive directors.
Outside her political work for Bush, Miers was a partner at the Texas law firm of Locke Liddell & Sapp, served two years on the Dallas City Council and was the first woman to be head of the Texas Bar Association.
"One of the things that I believe the president admires about Harriet is that she has spent her entire career breaking through glass ceilings," said James B. Francis Jr., who heads a Dallas investment firm and introduced Miers to Bush in 1993.