President Bush on Monday nominated White House Counsel Harriet E. Miers, an old friend and political ally with a distinguished legal resume but no judicial experience, to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
Bush’s choice of the 60-year-old lawyer perplexed some lawmakers and activists, who complained that her limited record on some of the central legal issues of the day made it difficult to assess her politics and philosophy. But some analysts predicted it would make her confirmation process less contentious.
Following last week’s swearing-in of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. -- Bush’s choice to replace the late William H. Rehnquist -- the second vacancy provided the president an opportunity to leave his imprint on the high court for decades to come.
Yet it was not clear whether Bush had picked someone who would push the nine-member court further to the right on key issues such as abortion and assisted suicide, as some conservative groups have sought. The question is key because Miers would replace O’Connor, a swing vote who supported abortion rights.
Roberts is considered a reliable conservative, like Rehnquist, but Miers could turn out to be more of a centrist, like O’Connor, some analysts said.
On the other hand, her participation in a Christian evangelical church in Dallas, her support for an antiabortion group, and her close association with a conservative justice on the Texas Supreme Court suggested an inclination toward conservative causes.
What is certain is that Miers will receive scrutiny in the Senate, where members of both parties said they intended to fill in the gaps in her professional paper trail before casting confirmation votes.
Bush, who announced his decision at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office shortly before attending Roberts’ installation ceremony at the Supreme Court, said he chose Miers because of her extensive legal experience, record of service and adherence to principles he holds dear.
“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,” Bush said. “Harriet Miers is just such a person.”
Bush noted that more than 35 Supreme Court justices -- including Rehnquist -- had no judicial experience before joining the high court. He said he could speak with confidence about the qualities Miers would bring to the job.
“I know her heart,” he said. “I know her character.”
Miers, wearing a necklace adorned with a cross, said she was humbled by the president’s decision and signaled her intent to exercise the kind of judicial restraint Bush was seeking.
“If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help ensure that the courts meet their obligations to strictly apply the laws and the Constitution,” she said.
Miers wasted no time in heading to Capitol Hill, where she met with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee.
Frist said he expected a confirmation vote on Miers by Thanksgiving.
“Ms. Miers is honest and hard-working and understands the importance of judicial restraint and the limited role of a judge to interpret the law and not legislate from the bench,” Frist said.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will hold hearings on Miers’ nomination, said the timing hadn’t been decided. He sounded supportive of the nomination.
“Many of us have called for a nominee who comes from a background other than one of being a jurist. And now we have a person who is like that,” Specter said.
“She’s a woman, she’s clearly bright, she’s very intelligent, and she clearly knows the issues because she’s been involved in them for years,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said at a San Francisco news conference. “Now what her values are and where she will stand in this very conservative court, we don’t know. And that’s what we have to take a look at.”
If confirmed, Miers would be the third woman to serve on the high court, after O’Connor, who was nominated by President Reagan, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was picked by President Clinton.
Among those who encouraged the president to choose a woman were O’Connor and First Lady Laura Bush, who attended the Sunday dinner during which her husband formally offered Miers the position.
The president’s announcement won an immediate compliment from Reid, who voted against Roberts’ confirmation -- a sign that Miers might fare better with Democrats than some candidates who had been on Bush’s short list.
“I like Harriet Miers,” Reid said, citing her “courteous and professional manner” in dealings with him and her trailblazing role as a female lawyer in Texas.
Reid, in fact, had said during a Sept. 21 meeting with Bush and other senators that Miers would make a good nominee.
White House officials and allies said Monday that one of the reasons Miers was chosen was that she appeared less likely to provoke a bitter political fight and possible Democratic filibuster than candidates with more established conservative credentials.
“Some of the conservative activists would prefer to have a sitting judge who has taken conservative positions on all their favorite issues,” said GOP lobbyist and informal White House advisor Charlie Black. “I’m sure the president considered some people like that, but that was never his goal or his job description.”
Some activists found that political calculus troubling.
“This is the moment for which the conservative legal movement has been waiting for two decades,” former Bush speechwriter David Frum said on the website of the National Review, a conservative magazine. Citing several federal judges with established conservative records, he added: “There was no reason for him to choose anyone but one of these outstanding conservatives.”
Some conservative activists also were bothered by the fact that before Miers began working as a lawyer for Bush in Texas, she contributed $1,000 in 1988 to Al Gore’s unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But abortion rights advocates found reason Monday to worry too. They expressed concern that while serving as president of the Texas bar in 1993, Miers tried unsuccessfully to get the American Bar Assn. leadership to reconsider its endorsement of abortion rights. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said Miers simply had sought to put the issue to a vote of all ABA members.
Reginald Brown, a Washington lawyer who worked in the White House counsel’s office before Miers took over this year, said conservatives need not worry about her political inclinations. He said her previous White House jobs required her to ensure the president’s policy preferences were put into action.
“She would not have been picked for those jobs if she didn’t share his values,” Brown said. “Everyone who knows Harriet will tell you that she is extremely cautious and deliberate. She is not one who would be prone to broad pronouncements on the Supreme Court that would move the law in radically new directions.”
If Miers’ legal philosophy remains something of a mystery, her work ethic apparently is not in question. Even in a White House known for punishing hours, Miers stands out as a workaholic, associates said.
“She totally enjoys her profession and her career,” said former Commerce Secretary Don Evans. “It’s something she immerses herself in.”
In 1994, Miers served as Bush’s general counsel when he ran for Texas governor. Once in office, he turned to her to help clean up a scandal involving the Texas Lottery Commission, which she chaired from 1995 to 2000, while continuing her law practice.
Miers, who was born in Dallas, served as Bush’s personal lawyer while he was governor, and came to Washington with him in 2001 as White House staff secretary. In 2003, he promoted her to deputy chief of staff. Bush elevated Miers to the position of White House counsel in February.
Times staff writers Mary Curtius, Maura Reynolds, Peter Wallsten, Janet Hook, T. Christian Miller and James Gerstenzang contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Harriet E. Miers
Birth date: Aug. 10, 1945, in Dallas.
Education: Studied at Southern Methodist University, where she earned undergraduate and law degrees.
Experience: Was co-managing partner at the law firm Locke Liddell & Sapp.
* First female president of the Dallas Bar Assn.
* From 1995 to 2000, she chaired the Texas Lottery Commission, after being appointed by then-Gov. George W. Bush.
* She served as Bush’s staff secretary during the first two years of his presidential term. In 2003, she rose to the post of deputy chief of staff.
* In November 2004, Bush named her to the post of White House counsel, the president’s chief legal advisor, succeeding Alberto R. Gonzales, who was nominated to become attorney general.
Family: Single, no children.
Sources: Associated Press, Reuters
Los Angeles Times