The Nominee's Private Life
Strong Grounding in the Church Could Be a Clue to Miers's Priorities
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
One evening in the 1980s, several years after Harriet Miers dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, she attended a lecture at her Dallas evangelical church with Nathan Hecht, a colleague at her law firm and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. The speaker was Paul Brand, a surgeon and the author of "Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," a best-selling exploration of God and the human body.
When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. "I'm convinced that life begins at conception," Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is "taking a life."
"I know she is pro-life," said Hecht, one of the most conservative judges in Texas. "She thinks that after conception, it's not a balancing act -- or if it is, it's a balancing of two equal lives."
Hecht and other confidants of Miers all pledge that if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, her judicial values will be guided by the law and the Constitution. But they say her personal values have been shaped by her abiding faith in Jesus, and by her membership in the massive red-brick Valley View Christian Church, where she was baptized as an adult, served on the missions committee and taught religious classes. At Valley View, pastors preach that abortion is murder, that the Bible is the literal word of God and that homosexuality is a sin -- although they also preach that God loves everybody.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment on Hecht's recollection yesterday but said President Bush did not ask Miers her personal views on abortion or any other issue that may come before the court. "A nominee who shares the president's approach of judicial restraint would not allow personal views to affect his or her rulings based on the law," Perino said.
Some religious conservatives have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Miers nomination, grumbling that she has never taken public stands on hot-button social issues. But her friends point to Valley View as evidence that she is cut from conservative cloth. They say she's not a "holy roller" who flaunts her religion on her sleeve but she lives her faith as a born-again Christian.
"People in Dallas know she's a conservative," said her friend Ed Kinkeade, a federal district judge. "She's not Elmer Gantry, but she lives what she believes. . . . I'm like, y'all, has George Bush appointed anyone to an appellate court that is a betrayal to conservatives?"
Even in Dallas, home of groups such as the Texas Eagle Forum and the Republican National Coalition for Life, some religious conservatives say Miers, 60, has demonstrated an insufficient commitment to family values. They cited a questionnaire she filled out for a gay rights group in 1989 as a candidate for Dallas City Council, indicating that gay people should have the same civil rights as straight people and that the city should fund AIDS education and services. After her election, she appointed an openly gay lawyer to an influential city board.
"For goodness' sake, why elevate AIDS over cancer? She shouldn't have filled out that questionnaire at all," said Cathie Adams, president of the Texas Eagle Forum. "President Bush is asking us to have faith in things unseen. We only have that kind of faith in God."
But on the same questionnaire, Miers opposed the repeal of a Texas anti-sodomy law and said she was not seeking the endorsement of the gay rights group. In a meeting with the group, she said that her "personal conviction is not consistent" with the "homosexual lifestyle," according to one activist's notes.
Hecht suggested that it would be difficult to attend Valley View regularly and support gay rights. At the same time, he said, Miers's faith made her more sympathetic to the struggles of others, and her duties as an at-large City Council member transcended her personal views.
"She represented those people, and she wanted to represent the whole city," Hecht said. "It doesn't mean that you approve of their lifestyle."
Hecht remembers that when Miers made partner at their law firm, the first woman ever to do so, she began to question what life was all about. He said they would often put their feet up and trade Big Questions: Is there a God? Who is He? What difference does it make? Miers had attended Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches as a girl, and her mother was religious, but Miers told Hecht she wanted a "deeper faith." Hecht believes she may have supported abortion rights at the time, although he said she had not thought about it much.
"Well, let's go to my church," Hecht told her.
That was Valley View, where Hecht played the organ and taught Sunday school. It was a church, pastor Ron Key said, that believed in "the Judeo-Christian perspective on the sanctity of life" and "the Christian perspective on marriage." There are antiabortion pamphlets inside the church and literature opposing premarital sex. Key and his wife, Kaycia, said they never asked Miers what she thought about those issues, because they never thought they had to.
"We've known Harriet for 30 years and we've never had any reason to discuss these hot topics," Kaycia Key said. "But I can say one thing: She's a totally committed Christian."
But some antiabortion activists noted that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was described as a devout Catholic when he was nominated by President Ronald Reagan -- and he still voted to uphold Roe v. Wade . Miers donated $150 at a fundraising dinner for a Texas antiabortion group in 1989, but Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life, remembers that there were plenty of politicians trolling for votes at the dinner. Parro said she does not care whether Miers is a born-again Christian, or the companion of Hecht.
"It's not about her church, or the fellow she dates. It's about her record," Parro said. "She seems like a fine lady, but this nomination does not advance the culture of life."
In 1993, when Miers was the president of the Texas bar, she led a challenge to the American Bar Association's support for abortion rights. Some of her friends say she just thought it was inappropriate for the group to take a stand on a moral issue, but others point out that an abortion rights supporter probably would not have challenged the status quo.
"She didn't have to do that," Kinkeade said. "She was following her beliefs."
Those beliefs were forged at Valley View, but Miers is breaking away from the church where she embraced Jesus. In recent years, church elders have moved to cut back on missionary work, sparking a split this summer among the parishioners. Key is forming a church that plans to donate half its revenues to mission work, and Miers plans to join him.
"These days so many of the churches have become Christian country clubs," Key said. "They are more about making you feel good about yourself than making you grow. Some of us, including Harriet, were uncomfortable with all this."
But if Miers is leaving her church, the church is not leaving her. Kaycia Key said she expects to see the next Supreme Court justice in the pews, singing enthusiastically, if not skillfully. "Let's just say she makes a joyful noise unto the Lord," Key said. "She doesn't hesitate to sing out."
Pomfret reported from Dallas.