HARRIET MIERS’ ‘UNKNOWN’ STORY
Colleagues Cite Her Work Ethic, Integrity and Discretion
BY MOLLY McDONOUGH
"Rather an unknown." That’s a statement that could describe Harriet Ellan Miers, President Bush’s latest nominee for associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. But it’s actually a headline topping a 1981 New York Times news analysis about President Reagan’s then-nominee Sandra Day O’Connor.
Indeed, outside of her home state of Arizona, very little was known about the first woman to take a seat on the country’s highest court. Likewise, Miers, a trailblazer for women lawyers in her own right, isn’t a known commodity outside of her native Texas.
"[Miers] has not been on the national stage," says constitutional law professor Marci A. Hamilton, who clerked for O’Connor and is struck by the similarities of the Miers and O’Connor nominations. "It’s crucial to have someone at the Supreme Court who has had that experience," says Hamilton; Without O’Connor, Hamilton has long argued, the court would be losing the sensitivity she brought from her experience as a state legislator and state court judge. Yet Miers, has been neither of these outside a short stint in the Dallas City Council.
Miers focused most of her career in behind-the-scenes trial practice. Colleagues say her penchant for being discreet won her the trust of her clients, including Microsoft, Walt Disney & Co. and, eventually, then-Gov. George W. Bush.
Friends close to Meirs say that she’s well-known for not trumpeting her gender-barrier breakthroughs and, similarly, keeps her personal views to herself, which will make it difficult for Republicans and Democrats alike to pinpoint her beliefs on hot-button issues such as abortion, gay marriage and the death penalty.
Jerry K. Clements of Locke Liddel & Sapp, a close friend and former college of Meirs, doesn’t like those questions anyway. "The real question is, does she believe in the rule of law and the concept of stare decisis?" Clements says. The answer is yes, she says. Clements believes Miers would hold a high regard for precedent and is a strict constructionist.
Nothing of what he has learned about Miers so far soothes constitutional scholar Bruce Fein, who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration. One of his biggest problems with the nomination is that he hasn’t seen anything in her record that shows she has any enthusiasm or vigorous insight into the weighty constitutional issues regularly addressed by the Supreme Court.