10-3-05 - President Bush on Monday nominated White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, reaching into his loyal inner circle for another pick that could reshape the nation's judiciary for years to come.
"She has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice," Bush said as his first Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John Roberts, took the bench for the first time just a few blocks from the White House. "She will be an outstanding addition to the Supreme Court of the United States."
If confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, Miers, 60, would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman on the nation's highest court and the third to serve there. Miers, who has never been a judge, was the first woman to serve as president of the Texas State Bar and the Dallas Bar Association.
Miers, whom Bush called a trailblazer for women in the legal profession, said she was humbled by the nod.
"If confirmed, I recognize I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help insure the court meets their obligations to strictly apply the laws and Constitution," she said.
Democratic and Republican special interests groups had been braced for a political brawl over the pick, but they may not get it. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had urged the president to consider Miers, according to several officials familiar with Bush's consultations with Congress.
Miers has no judicial record, which may complicate any Democratic attempts to block her nomination. It is impossible to predict whether Miers and Roberts will shift the court to the right. She would replace O'Connor, a critical swing vote on the court who helped uphold the right to abortion and affirmative action. Rehnquist, the late chief justice being replaced by Roberts, was a consistent conservative vote.
"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 Mier's judicial philosophy and legal background before any vote for confirmation," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said: "With this selection, the president has chosen another outstanding nominee to sit on our nations 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."
Bush, his approval rating falling in recent months, had been under intense pressure to nominate a woman or a minority.
Miers had helped push Roberts' nomination through the Senate, and Bush said that "she will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench." Conservatives apparently agreed.
Initial reaction from conservatives was positive.
"She has been a forceful advocate of conservative legal principles and judicial restraint throughout her career," said Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society.
"Harriet Miers is a top-notch lawyer who understands the limited role that judges play in our society," said Noel Francisco, former assistant White House counsel and deputy assistant attorney general during the Bush administration.
The president offered the job to Miers Sunday night over dinner in the residence. He met with Miers on four occasions during the past couple weeks, officials said.
Rehnquist, whose death paved way for Roberts' nomination, had not served as a judge before President Nixon put him on the Supreme Court. Nineteen other justices previously had never served as judges before getting on the high court.
According to the White House, 10 of the 34 Justices appointed since 1933, including Rehnquist and the late Justice Byron White, were appointed from positions within the president's administration.
"Having never served as a judge, Ms. Miers has no `paper trail' of judicial opinions, and prospective opponents thus will have a hard time identifying positions to protest or complain about," said Supreme Court historian David Garrow. "What's more, Ms. Miers' professional record as an attorney in Texas is undeniably one of significant achievement and accomplishment, and her proponents will be able to present her as a female trail blazer whose life-record is at least arguably comparable to that of Justice O'Connor."
Known for thoroughness and her low-profile, Miers is one of the first staff members to arrive at the White House in the morning and among the last to leave.
When Bush named her White House counsel in November 2004, the president described Miers as a lawyer with keen judgment and discerning intellect _ "a trusted adviser on whom I have long relied for straightforward advice."
He also joked of Miers, "When it comes to a cross-examination, she can fillet better than Mrs. Paul."
With no record, liberals say the White House should be prepared for Miers to be peppered with questions during her Senate confirmation.
"Choosing somebody who is not a judge would put that much more of a premium on straight answers to questions because there would be that much less for senators and the public to go on when looking at such a nominee's judicial philosophy," says Elliot Mincberg, counsel with the liberal People for the American Way.
Formerly Bush's personal lawyer in Texas, Miers came with the president to the White House as his staff secretary, the person in charge of all the paperwork that crosses the Oval Office desk. Miers was promoted to deputy chief of staff in June 2003.
As an attorney in Dallas, Miers became president in 1996 of Locke Purnell, Rain & Harrell a firm with more than 200 lawyers where she worked starting in 1972. After it merged a few years later, she became co-manager of Locke Liddell & Sapp.
When Bush was governor of Texas, she represented him in a case involving a fishing house. In 1995, he appointed her to a six-year term on the Texas Lottery Commission. She also served as a member-at-large on the Dallas City Council and in 1992 became the first woman president of the Texas State Bar.
Here are statements Monday about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court:
"I believe the 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. Harriet Miers will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench." _ President Bush.
"It is the responsibility of every generation to be true to the founders' vision of the proper role of the courts in our society. 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 obligation to strictly apply the law and the Constitution." _ Harriet Miers.
"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." _ Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
"She has a reputation for being loyal to this president, whom she has a long history of serving as a close adviser and in working to advance his objectives. In an administration intent on accumulating executive power, Ms. Miers' views on and role in these issues will be important for the Senate to examine." _ Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee
"Harriet Miers is a brilliant legal mind. She is a woman of outstanding character who clearly understands what it means to follow the law. She is deeply committed to public service, and has a distinguished history of professional achievement. It is clear that her past experiences have well prepared her for the honor of serving our country as a Supreme Court Justice." _ Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.
"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 Mier's judicial philosophy and legal background before any vote for confirmation." _ Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
"She has been a forceful advocate of conservative legal principles and judicial restraint throughout her career." _ Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society.
"We are concerned about the nomination of Harriet Miers and we demand she answer questions regarding her views of fundamental reproductive and privacy rights. We expect Miers to make clear her views on reproductive rights during the hearing process, and the Senate should not confirm a nominee who is not willing to do so." _ Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood.
"The reaction of many conservatives today will be that the president has made possibly the most unqualified choice since Abe Fortas who had been the president's lawyer. The nomination of a nominee with no judicial record is a significant failure for the advisers that the White House gathered around it. However, the president deserves the benefit of a doubt, the nominee deserves the benefit of hearings, and every nominee deserves an up or down vote." _ Manuel Miranda, chairman of the conservative Third Branch Conference
"This is a smart move. You try to pick a nominee that Democrats won't be able to criticize as much because they are a woman or minority. This is a classic Clarence Thomas strategy." Artemus Ward, Northern Illinois University political science professor.