- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

President Bush yesterday nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, reaching into his inner circle of loyal advisers to choose a woman he once described as “a pit bull in size 6 shoes.”

If confirmed by the Senate, the 60-year-old Miss Miers, who is a lawyer but has never been a judge and has the slimmest of paper trails, would be the third woman to serve on the nation’s highest court.

“She has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice,” Mr. Bush said in an Oval Office ceremony with the nominee.

“I believe that senators of both parties will find that Harriet Miers’ talent, experience and judicial philosophy make her a superb choice to safeguard the constitutional liberties and equality of all Americans,” he said.

The stealth candidate received praise from Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, who had recommended that Mr. Bush consider Miss Miers.

“I like Harriet Miers,” Mr. Reid said. “The Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer.”

In accepting the nomination, Miss Miers said she appreciates “the wisdom of those who drafted our Constitution and conceived our nation as functioning with three strong and independent branches.”

“If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and help ensure that the courts meet their obligations to strictly apply the law and the Constitution,” she said.

Some conservatives questioned Miss Miers’ credentials. Manuel Miranda of the Third Branch Conference said she has “no judicial record” and called her “possibly the most unqualified choice” in almost 40 years.

The Family Research Council counseled a “wait and see” approach, and Concerned Women for America said she deserved “the benefit of the doubt.” A few Republican lawmakers such as Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas and John Thune of South Dakota withheld endorsement.

But Vice President Dick Cheney assured conservatives that he “would take exception with the notion that somehow this was an effort to appease the left.”

“I’m confident that she has a conservative judicial philosophy that you’d be comfortable with,” he told a skeptical Rush Limbaugh on the talk-radio host’s program. “She believes very deeply in the importance of interpreting the Constitution and the laws as written. She won’t legislate from the federal bench.”

In announcing the nomination, Mr. Bush emphasized his nominee’s history as a trailblazer, noting that Miss Miers was the first woman to serve as president of the State Bar of Texas and the Dallas Bar Association, and was the first woman to become president of a major Dallas law firm.

“Harriet’s greatest inspiration was her mother, who taught her the difference between right and wrong, and instilled in Harriet the conviction that she could do anything she set her mind to. Inspired by that confidence, Harriet became a pioneer in the field of law, breaking down barriers to women that remained … a generation after President Reagan appointed Justice O’Connor to the Supreme Court,” Mr. Bush said.

Miss Miers came to Washington with the president as his staff secretary, in charge of all the paperwork that crosses the Oval Office desk.

She was promoted to deputy chief of staff in June 2003, and to White House counsel when Alberto R. Gonzales left the post to become attorney general.

Miss Miers had advised Mr. Bush for years as a private attorney and served as chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission.

With nothing in terms of formal judicial opinions to go on — unlike in the case of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. or sitting justices on both sides such as Antonin Scalia or Ruth Bader Ginsburg — pundits were inferring about her opinions based on facts such as where she went to church and her past political contributions.

She had a born-again experience and became an evangelical Christian in 1979. She tried to have the American Bar Association repeal its pro-choice platform — but on the grounds that it was divisive and that the group couldn’t speak for the whole legal profession, not because of moral concerns.

Like many Texans at that time, she also donated to the 1980s campaigns of conservative Democrats such as Al Gore and Lloyd Bentsen, and to the Democratic National Committee.

But in choosing a Supreme Court nominee who has never served on the bench, Mr. Bush said he was following a presidential tradition of nominating people “drawn from a wide diversity of professional backgrounds.”

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Mr. Bush said, “came to the Supreme Court without prior experience on the bench, as did more than 35 other men, including Byron White. And I’m proud to nominate an outstanding woman who brings a similar record of achievement in private practice and public service.” Justice Rehnquist died last month.

Senate Republicans said they will press for confirmation by Thanksgiving — a tight timetable by recent standards, allowing less than eight weeks for lawmakers to review her record, hold hearings and vote.

Just hours after Mr. Bush’s announcement, Miss Miers traveled to the Capitol to begin courtesy calls on the senators who will vote on her nomination, including members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Her first stop was Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee, who said that “with this selection, the president has chosen another outstanding nominee to sit on our nation’s highest court.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush had seriously considered 12 to 15 contenders. Mr. McClellan said more than one Democratic senator had broached Miss Miers’ name to the president, but declined to identify them.

Mr. Bush, who met with Miss Miers on four occasions during the past several weeks, offered her the job Sunday night over dinner at the White House.

The president told Chief Justice Roberts in a phone call about 7 a.m. and informed Justice O’Connor in a call about 7:15 a.m., Mr. McClellan said.

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