BY JEFFREY JAMISON
The hopes of having a 6th HLS grad on the current Supreme Court were dashed when President Bush announced that Harriet Miers, former Commission Chairwoman of the Texas Lottery, essentially hit the judicial lottery with a nomination to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Miers, a graduate of Southern Methodist University Law School (’70), is currently White House counsel, and had been in charge of vetting potential nominees for both the Rehnquist and O’Connor vacancies. Apparently, she passed her own scrutiny.
Miers has been a long-time confidant and personal lawyer of Mr. Bush. In 1995, then Governor Bush appointed Miers, his personal lawyer at the time, to the post of Texas Lottery Commission Chairwoman explicitly to clean up the scandal-plagued office. After ascending to the White House, Bush brought Miers along to serve as staff secretary. She held that post until 2003 when she was promoted to White House deputy chief of staff for policy. In 2004, she became White House counsel, replacing Alberto Gonzales when he was named to replace John Ashcroft as the Attorney General of the United States.
While never having served as a judge, Miers did clerk for Judge Joe Estes of the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas, from 1970-72. Miers was a well-respected attorney in private practice for 26 years before leaving to begin her public service career. From 1972-1999, Miers worked at Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP in Dallas, Texas. During her tenure at Locke Liddell, Miers served as the Co-Managing Partner, and was the President of Locke, Purnell, Rain & Harrell pre-merger. Miers was the first woman to serve as president of the Texas State Bar and the Dallas Bar Association. Miers also served as an at-large member of the Dallas City Council from 1989-1991.
In the announcement from the Oval Office, Mr. Bush said of Miers, “For the past five years Harriet Miers has served in critical roles in our nation’s government.” He added, “She will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench.” In 2004, when naming Miers as the new White House counsel, Bush said, “Harriet Miers is a trusted adviser on whom I have long relied for straightforward advice. Harriet has the keen judgment and discerning intellect necessary to be an outstanding counsel.” As governor of Texas, Bush once offered a more colorful assessment of Miers, calling her, “a pit bull in size 6 shoes.”
While a life-long Republican, Miers made donations to the 1988 campaign of Lloyd Bentsen (Senate), Al Gore (Presidential), and the DNC Services Corporation. Several sources have reported that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) urged Bush to consider Miers. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) applauded the selection saying, “With this selection, the president has chosen another outstanding nominee to sit on our nation’s highest court. 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.” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was more cautious about the nomination, “We know even less about Harriet Miers than we did about John Roberts and because this is the critical swing seat on the court, Americans will need to know a lot more about Miers’ judicial philosophy and legal background before any vote for confirmation.”
Tom Goldstein, one of the nation’s top Supreme Court litigators, predicted, while taking no position on the nominee, that the Senate will reject her nomination and Justice O’Connor will still be a sitting Justice on January 1, 2006. “The President’s nomination creates a very interesting political dynamic-one that places the nomination in peril.” Goldstein suggests that there is great disappointment in this selection within the conservative wing of the Republican party and that moderates “have no substantial incentive to support the nomination.” Democrats will likely try to raise the ghost of Michael Brown and suggest inexperience and cronyism. Because little is known about Miers’ position on issues, it will be difficult to predict how contentious the nomination process will be. Since the best insight into her views are memos she wrote while serving in the White House, the Democrats will probably call for the White House to release any and all memos written by Miers. However, those communications are privileged, and, given the White House’s unwillingness to release Chief Justice Roberts’ memos, it is unlikely that the White House will comply this time around.
Miers was born in Dallas on August 10, 1945. She graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1967 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. If approved by the Senate, Miers will be the third woman to sit on the US Supreme Court.