A Deep Dedication to the President, and to Her Work
Tuesday, October 4, 2005
As a private citizen in Dallas, Harriet Miers was a devoted parishioner and Sunday-school teacher at a conservative evangelical church, and she donated money to an antiabortion group. As a City Council candidate, she opposed the repeal of a law against gay sex. As president of the Texas bar, she led a fight against an abortion rights plank adopted by the American Bar Association. And as President Bush's White House lawyer, she helped vet deeply conservative judges.
But lawyers and others who know Miers in Dallas and Washington say that Bush's latest nominee to the Supreme Court is not a conservative activist. They recall her as a well-regarded corporate litigator, a bridge-building council member, a reform-minded chairman of the Texas lottery, and a dedicated Bush loyalist renowned for her long hours but not hard-right ideology. Her red Mercedes-Benz was such a fixture in the West Wing lot that colleagues called it an abandoned car; she has never married or had children, and some of her friends believe she has sacrificed her personal life for work.
Miers has earned respect across the political spectrum for fairness and especially for diligence. As Bush's staff secretary, she was known to correct spelling, grammar and even punctuation errors in memos to the president. But she has no judicial experience and not much appellate experience. She clerked for a federal district judge more than 30 years ago, and Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht says he has dated her "off and on" for decades. But her friends say they have never heard her express any interest in the bench.
"I don't think she ever explored that as a career path," said Elizabeth Lang Miers, her sister-in-law, who is a judge in Texas.
But whatever the holes in her judicial résumé, Miers enjoys the absolute confidence of the president, who once called her "a pit bull in size 6 shoes." In 1988, she donated $1,000 to then-Sen. Al Gore's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, as well as $1,000 to Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. But ever since she represented Bush in a title dispute over an East Texas fish shack about a dozen years ago, her star has risen with his.
She was the attorney for Bush's gubernatorial transition team in Texas and chaired his state lottery commission. She helped recruit conservative lawyers for Bush during the Florida recount in 2000 and was reportedly assigned during the campaign to conduct a review of his National Guard service. She then moved to Washington as his White House staff secretary, controlling the flow of paper into the Oval Office, and was promoted to deputy chief of staff for policy and then chief counsel. She was a frequent guest at Camp David and helped Bush clear brush at his ranch near Crawford, Tex.
David Frum, a conservative commentator and former White House staffer, wrote on his blog that Miers once told him the president was the most brilliant man she knows. Many colleagues in the White House consider her personal views a bit of a mystery because she has subordinated them to the president's views.
"There's a deep, deep trust that the president has for Harriet," said Jack Howard, a former deputy assistant to the president for legislative affairs. "She is really close in."
Hecht, who first met Miers when she interviewed him for a job in the early 1970s, wields one of the most conservative gavels on the Texas bench. He said he has attended several antiabortion dinners with Miers and noted that she has always tithed to the Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, where antiabortion literature is sometimes distributed and tapes from the conservative group Focus on the Family are sometimes screened. He said her personal beliefs would not guide her jurisprudence, but he scoffed at the skepticism that some conservatives have expressed about Bush's selection of Miers.
"I know what her judicial philosophy will be, and when they find out what this president knows about Harriet, they are going to be happy as clams," Hecht said.
Harriet Ellan Miers grew up in North Dallas, the second youngest of five children. Her mother was a homemaker; her father was in real estate. Her classmates at Hillcrest High School remember the Miers family as especially serious about learning. "I remember that her mother wouldn't even let her watch television," said Sharon Baird, a neighbor and classmate.
Harriet was blond, pretty and athletic -- she captained the tennis team as a senior, and was voted "best all around in sports" -- but she was known as more serious than social. While the cool girls wore bouffant hairdos, she wore a long braid wound modestly around her head. And she was one of the few students outside the in crowd elected to class offices.