IN REPLACING Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, President Bush could have opted for ideological confrontation and an automatic confirmation battle. His nomination of Harriet Miers, his White House counsel, may save the country from that ugly outcome. Ms. Miers, like Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., is not known as an ideologue or a cultural warrior. A corporate lawyer, she served as president of the State Bar of Texas and was active in the American Bar Association, an organization of which many conservatives are suspicious. In her bar activities, she pushed for greater legal representation for the poor. Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) suggested that Mr. Bush consider someone like Ms. Miers. Mr. Bush's decision, particularly in light of the heat he is now taking from the right, seems like a significant gesture of conciliation.

That's the good news. It also should be said that Ms. Miers's background is not insubstantial: She has managed a major law firm and been a prominent corporate litigator; she served on the Texas Lottery Commission and the Dallas City Council. Her combination of bar activity and legal practice calls to mind that of the late Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. There's something to be said for a diversity of legal experience on the court; not every justice has to be a former federal appellate judge and constitutional scholar.

And yet, Ms. Miers is not the most evidently qualified nominee available to the president -- far from it. Her clearest distinction is her service and loyalty to Mr. Bush. She has served on his White House staff from the inception of his administration; she was on his transition team when he became governor of Texas; she has done personal legal work for him as well. She and Mr. Bush have a long and close relationship -- and this is an administration that puts an enormous premium on political loyalty.

As her confirmation process gets underway, Ms. Miers will have to dispel the suspicion that such loyalty counts more than quality. In a profile late last year, Legal Times suggested that she struggled to make decisions while serving as deputy chief of staff and tended to get bogged down in details. These are not ideal qualities for a justice. She has no record as a judge or as a scholar. Her views and approach to the law are largely unknown.

For all these reasons, assessing Ms. Miers will be a complicated task. The Senate Judiciary Committee managed to conduct a relatively dignified and serious process for Chief Justice Roberts. But the challenge here will be different. The Senate needs to satisfy itself not only that Ms. Miers has responsible attitudes toward the interpretation of law but also that Mr. Bush's faith that she belongs on the nation's highest court is well placed.