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Ending weeks of speculation, President George W. Bush has picked a relatively unknown but intensely loyal Texan, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. In a brief Monday-morning announcement introducing Miers, Bush said that she had “devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice.” Unlike other potential nominees whose names had been floated as possible choices in the past weeks, Miers, 60, has never been a judge. The former corporate litigator’s only experience in public office was the one term she served as a member-at-large on the Dallas City Council. Miers’ paper trail is minimal, perhaps even more scanty than that of newly appointed Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., who had two years of opinions from his time on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit — as well as a history as a high-ranking lawyer in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. “My first reaction was a simple one,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters shortly after the announcement. “It could have been a lot worse. . . . Harriet Miers clearly has the potential to be a consensus nominee.” She is single and a devoted churchgoer. But her membership in the American Bar Association could cause her problems among hard-core conservatives, who believe the ABA is far too liberal an organization. The Associated Press reported Monday that Miers encouraged the ABA to revisit its pro-abortion-rights stance in favor of taking a neutral position on the matter. Bush named Miers White House counsel late last year, after her predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, became attorney general. In 2001, she moved to Washington from her home in Dallas to become Bush’s staff secretary, a job in which she regulated the flow of information to the president’s desk. At least one academic commentator, George Washington University law school professor Jonathan Turley, speaking to NBC News this morning, called Miers “an amazingly bad choice, to be absolutely frank.” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will be examining Miers’ fitness for the Court, said Monday that there may be little in terms of a record to examine. Specter said that the doctrines of executive privilege and lawyer-client privilege may prevent the White House from turning over documents. “I went over with her, in some detail, papers which she had generated to see what would be appropriate for disclosure. I really think there is very little to start with,” Specter told reporters. “And on first blush, it would be covered by privilege.” Miers, who became the first female president of the Texas State Bar in 1992, has a distinguished legal background, but it is not the typical r�sum� of a Supreme Court nominee. Unlike many high court justices, whose undergraduate and law degrees come from some of the country’s most prestigious universities, Miers went to Dallas’ Southern Methodist University for both her undergraduate degree in mathematics and her J.D. But Specter said that background wouldn’t count against her. “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,” he said. “And you wouldn’t expect someone to have part of the boutique, Washington, D.C., Supreme Court practice. You’ve got to go to America to find lawyers, and Dallas is as good a place as any to find lawyers.” After graduating from law school, Miers became the first woman hired by Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely, a venerable Dallas firm that traces its roots back to the 1890s. At the firm she handled a wide range of complex commercial litigation, eventually becoming co-managing partner. By then it had merged and was known as Locke Liddell & Sapp LLP. She met Bush in 1993, when she became counsel to his successful Texas gubernatorial campaign. In 1995, Bush named Miers to the Texas Lottery Commission, which she chaired until 2000. “I have given a lot of thought about the kind of people who should serve on the Supreme Court,” Bush said Monday, adding that he was looking for someone who would demonstrate “grace, judgment, and unwavering devotion to the laws of our country. Harriet Miers is just such a person.” Commenting on Miers’ lack of judicial experience, Bush noted that 35 other justices had had no prior experience on the bench. University of Connecticut political scientist David Yalof, who has written a book on Supreme Court nominations, noted that it has become far less common in the past 35 years to nominate justices who have not served on the bench. “If you come to the Court without judicial experience, there might be a higher bar,” says Yalof. Lewis Powell, for example, who was appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1971, also had no prior judicial experience. But he had been president of the ABA and was considered one of the foremost legal minds in the country, Yalof says. Perhaps most famously, former Chief Justice Earl Warren, appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, had no prior judicial experience. But, notes Yalof, Warren was just one of five Eisenhower appointees without such experience. Also, he adds, two of President Harry Truman’s appointees lacked a background on the bench. Yalof says the White House will almost certainly paint Miers as a pioneering woman lawyer with a number of legal firsts. “It’s definitely the story the White House will use to tug at the heartstrings, the same as for Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, that they struggled to get jobs out of law school,” Yalof says. “But that’s the difference between now and 1981 and 1993, respectively. There’s a sense now that there are so many highly qualified women to choose from.” Shortly after the choice was announced, the liberal interest group People For the American Way released a statement from its president, Ralph Neas, saying Bush’s choice “raises serious questions about whether he has found a nominee who has the requisite qualifications and independence for the nation’s highest court. This nomination will require the closest scrutiny by the Senate.” Gonzales, Miers’ former colleague who has a similar Texas background and was rumored to be a Supreme Court candidate himself, released a statement praising Miers’ credentials. He would have been the Court’s first Hispanic justice if confirmed for the Court. That neither Gonzales nor any Hispanic was named infuriated some members of the Hispanic legal community. “The fact is that the Hispanic community of the United States, the nation’s largest minority group, has been openly insulted by the failure to even seriously consider a distinguished Hispanic lawyer or judge,” says Carlos Ortiz, former president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, who has been actively lobbying for the nomination of a Hispanic justice for more than a dozen years. “There are scores of conservative Republican Hispanic lawyers who are partners of major American law firms and state and federal court judges.” Bush, Ortiz says, “has again failed the Hispanic community of the United States. This failure is absolutely outrageous and offensive. It is no less offensive that the person conducting the search got the job.” The question remains whether those credentials are so overwhelmingly outstanding that Miers can overcome the recent history of nominees having federal court experience. But, says professor Yalof, the nomination, like that of Roberts, also puts Democrats in a bind. “She really is a complete blank slate in terms of her judicial ideology,” he observes. “She’s never judged or had numerous briefs, like a solicitor general. But if Senate Democrats go at her hard, and if she’s rejected, she could be replaced by somebody who’s much more of a conservative ideologue. “It’s the blank slate as a wild card.”
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected]. Legal Times Supreme Court Correspondent Tony Mauro contributed to this report.

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