Miers Backed Race, Sex Set-Asides

Harriet Miers sits for a 1992 interview as state bar president, where she sought to boost female and minority lawyers.
Harriet Miers sits for a 1992 interview as state bar president, where she sought to boost female and minority lawyers. (State Bar Of Texas Via Associated Press)
By Jo Becker and Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 22, 2005

As president of the State Bar of Texas, Harriet Miers wrote that "our legal community must reflect our population as a whole," and under her leadership the organization embraced racial and gender set-asides and set numerical targets to achieve that goal.

The Supreme Court nominee's words and actions from the early 1990s, when she held key leadership positions as president-elect and president of the state bar, provide the first window into her personal views on affirmative action, an area in which the Supreme Court is closely divided and where Miers could tip the court's balance.

Her tenure at the bar association also could provide new fodder for conservatives opposed to her nomination, as President Bush seeks to quell a rebellion on the right over his selection of Miers.

To some conservatives, the types of policies pursued by the Texas bar association amount to reverse discrimination. One of the chief complaints on the right against Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales was that he clashed with conservatives who wanted to take a harder line against affirmative action.

White House spokesman Jim Dyke said that Miers's actions on the bar do not indicate a view on how Miers might rule on the big question before the Supreme Court, which is how far government can go to promote diversity.

"The best I can tell, this was a private-sector initiative to increase diversity, which is not the same thing as a government mandate of quotas," he said.

Miers, the first female president of the Texas bar, vowed in her first interview with the Texas Law Journal as president to "be inclusive of women and minorities."

During her tenure, she championed the cause of increasing the number of female and minority lawyers in the bar's own leadership ranks and in law firms across the state, writing that "we are strongest capitalizing on the benefits of our diversity."

Miers was a believer in mentoring programs, but during her tenure she and the board of directors went further, passing a resolution urging Texas law firms to set a goal of hiring one qualified minority lawyer for every 10 new associates. The directors also reiterated support for a policy of setting aside a specific number of seats on the board for women and minorities.

Although Miers was not the author of either policy, she never objected to them, according to tapes of the meetings, and numerous board members who served with her said she fully supported both efforts.

As the first female litigator at her law firm and the first female president of both the Dallas and Texas bars, Miers had an understanding of the barriers faced by those who are not white males, said former board member James Parsons III, who served on the board with Miers when she was named president-elect in 1991.

"When you come up hard like she did, you either pull the ladder up behind you or you leave the ladder down and reach back and pull people up," he said. "Harriet reached back -- that's who she is."

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