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DALLAS — Soon after George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential election, the phone rang at the Dallas home of U.S. Attorney Paul Coggins and his wife, former Clinton administration official Regina Montoya. It was Harriet Miers, whom Bush had just asked to be his staff secretary, calling for a bit of practical advice on living in the U.S. capital. And it was not a call from someone who seemed overjoyed at the prospect of leaving the city where she was born and, with one three-month exception, had lived her entire 54 years. “I did not get a sense of someone who was clicking their heels because all of a sudden they would be a big fish in a big pond,” recalls Coggins, a Democrat and a member of Dallas’ tight-knit corporate bar who has known Miers for a quarter-century. “Frankly, I got the sense that she was going because �someone wants me up there, but that I can’t wait to get back to Dallas.’ We talked about it, that it would be a short-term thing,” adds Coggins, now a partner at Fish & Richardson. Not anymore. If President Bush has his way and the Senate confirms Miers as a Supreme Court justice, she’ll move permanently to Washington, leaving behind — probably for good — not only her church, to which she is deeply devoted, but her extended family and scores of friends and colleagues. Staying in Washington after the Bush administration, even to work in the D.C. office of a Dallas law firm as, say, a high-powered rainmaker, had apparently never entered Miers’ mind. Not to mention the Supreme Court. “I asked her what’s next,” says Dallas lawyer Darrell Jordan, recalling a conversation he had with Miers, a 30-year friend, at last summer’s Texas Supreme Court Historical Society dinner. “And she insisted she’d be coming back to Dallas and not going to join some Washington office. “Harriet is a Dallasite,” Jordan continues. “She’s all over this city and she’s only 60 years old. Her universe is lawyers, her family is lawyers, her circle of friends is lawyers. My only caution: Does she want to spend it up there in Washington, in a cloistered robe?” Whether she truly does or not, few people, if anyone, really know. Miers will most likely not be talking publicly until her Senate confirmation hearings. Yet even if she were, it would hardly matter; the few scattered news articles written about her during her five-year tenure in the White House — first as staff secretary, then deputy White House chief of staff, and now White House counsel — reveal a woman loath to give up personal sentiments. “A soldier going off to duty” is how Coggins recalls feeling after talking with Miers at the start of her administration tenure. Daniel Branch, who represents Dallas in the Texas Legislature, has known Miers since they both worked on Bush’s successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign. “Whenever I see her in Washington, I’ll ask her how she’s doing,” recounts Branch over a salad at the Dallas Crescent Club. “And she’ll say, �The president’s so disciplined and focused,’ and I’ll say, �No, Harriet, how are you doing and when was the last time you took some time off?’ “ Jordan, like Miers, a former president of the Texas Bar Association, says he can imagine how she was selected as Bush’s latest Supreme Court nominee. “He probably presented it to her in this way: �Harriet, we’ve got to have you. I can’t have a nominee who can’t be confirmed.’ “Harriet Miers probably presented the president with every possible choice that could be made,” Jordan continues. “And in the end, Harriet was probably the last person standing.” OPENING DOORS Miers was born just five days before VJ Day, on Aug. 10, 1945, the fourth of five children spread out over a 20-year period. Her older sister died in 2003. Miers, who is single, remains close to the remaining three brothers and their families and their mother, who is 91 and in a nursing home. Together, the three brothers have seven children, ranging in age from 18 to 36, and two grandchildren. “When everybody gets together it’s a big deal,” explains her sister-in-law, Elizabeth Lang-Miers, a justice on the Texas Court of Appeals in Dallas, as she patiently walks yet another reporter through Miers’ background. It was a middle-class upbringing in the pleasant suburban neighborhoods of North Dallas. Miers graduated from the local high school and went to both college and law school at Southern Methodist University, whose leafy campus is also in North Dallas. She had thought about a career in teaching, although she really wanted to go into medicine. There was one problem, however, she told the Dallas Morning News in a 1991 profile: “I really came out of high school believing I wasn’t bright enough to be a doctor. Career days at high school, you just got no encouragement.” She settled on law, and in 1970 graduated from SMU, one of 12 women in her class. She joined Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely, an old-line, somewhat stodgy Dallas firm, as its first female hire, becoming partner six years later. She stayed there her entire career, eventually rising to managing partner and steering the firm through a prosperous merger. “All of us female lawyers knew her in town and knew she had opened up a lot of doors for us,” says Jerry Clements, a fellow female litigator at the firm. PUBLIC CITIZEN But portraying Miers as simply a shy, retiring, behind-the-scenes loyalist to the president makes for an incomplete picture. Her newly prominent position comes as a result of embracing public life in Texas at almost every turn over the past two decades. One springboard was a series of continuing roles in lawyers’ bar associations, which required Miers to cultivate a public and political persona. “It was clear that she wanted these leadership roles,” says James Branton, a San Antonio lawyer and another former Texas State Bar president. “She would do what it takes by assuming the leadership roles in all of these sub-jobs that give you the experience, that gets you known around the state and around the country.” Miers was elected the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association, a voluntary bar of 10,000 members, in 1985. In 1992 she became president of the Texas State Bar, to which the state’s more than 70,000 practicing lawyers are required to belong. The role, says David Beck, a Houston lawyer with Beck, Redden & Seacrest, took “a certain amount of political finesse.” Before going to work for Bush in 2001, Miers was in line for the presidency of the American Bar Association, which has nearly half a million members. As a member of the body’s House of Delegates, she helped make policy and decide the issues on which the association would lobby Congress. Miers threw herself into work for the ABA, long criticized by conservative groups who say it tilts to the left. In 1993, while president of the Texas State Bar, Miers unsuccessfully tried to persuade the ABA to abandon its favorable stance on abortion in favor of a neutral position. (See Correction below) “Doing the bar work is an opportunity to network, get your name out there,” says Walter Sutton, a former attorney with Hughes & Luce in Dallas and now a lawyer for Wal-Mart Corp. “It seems like the bar work filled a need in her. She needed to be out front and be of service.” Lawyers in Texas describe Miers’ bids to run the bar associations as bold, particularly in an environment like Dallas, where even in the 1980s there were still few women lawyers. “She’s of that ilk of Southern woman who is soft-spoken but very strong in her beliefs,” says Lynne Liberato, a partner in Houston with Haynes and Boone. When Liberato announced she would run for the Houston Bar Association in 1992, Miers called to introduce herself and to offer advice. Among the things she told Liberato was that she would be constantly hounded by questions about being a woman, and not necessarily about what she planned to do as bar president. “She said there was no getting around it,” Liberato recalls. “She said, though, that it was an important aspect of what I was doing. She believed that the legal profession should be a leader in ensuring that women are in leadership roles.” Miers would “throw another female a ladder,” says Beck, although he doesn’t think she would describe herself as a feminist. She hardly seems to be a doctrinaire Republican, either, or at least few seem to think of her that way in Dallas. She held a fund-raiser for now-jailed former Democratic Texas Attorney General Dan Morales (Morales failed to show, according to one invitee; Miers remained outwardly unperturbed) and won a seat and served one term in elected office on the nonpartisan Dallas City Council, from 1989 to 1991. MINORITY REPORTS In Dallas, a city where lawyers play an unusually large civic role, Miers is clearly the local girl made good. And it’s not just civic pride. Miers appears to have been a genuinely respected quantity, someone who paid attention not just to gender but to racial inequalities, as well. Miers, says H. Ron White, the managing partner of minority-owned Adorno Yoss White & Wiggins, was “always open and has heard the issues that were raised by the minority community. And she was sensitive to those issues in organizations that she’s served on.” These inequalities are particularly glaring in the downtown addresses of some of the city’s more prominent law firms, whose views from the uppermost floors of Dallas’ sleek skyscrapers look down on streets surrounded by wig shops and check-cashing stores. When Miers became president of the Texas State Bar, the group had begun to address complaints from minorities and women about barriers to joining the bar leadership. Antonio Alvarado, an Austin lawyer who was executive director of the state bar from 1995 through 2004, says the “bar was really under attack from minority lawyers groups who said, �Gosh, this is an elitist group of white men over 45. There aren’t a lot of people of color or women.’ “ In a Texas Bar Journal article, Miers wrote that she would address the “increasing sense by segments of the State Bar membership that they are being ignored by the Bar or that they are disenfranchised.” For Miers, diversity was as much about helping minorities as it was about women. When asked whether women should still be considered a minority within the state bar, Miers responded in a 1992 bar publication that, “A single or few women achieving success is not the sole indicator that all unfair barriers for women have been eradicated. . . . We should make every effort to provide a level playing field for all our members.” BONDING WITH BUSH Miers’ public profile caught the eye of James Francis Jr., a Dallas investment adviser who was helping set up Bush’s 1994 run for governor against incumbent Ann Richards. “I thought because of this [Republican] gender gap, I’ll get women to fill both of these slots,” says Francis, referring to the campaign committee’s treasurer and general counsel. “I’d seen Harriet at Republican functions, and she was a senior partner at Locke Liddell and immediate past president of the Texas Bar,” says Francis, who has known the Bush family since he went to work for George H.W. Bush in 1969. “What I thought was that she brought a lot to the table.” Francis picked Miers as general counsel. She also brought along legal skills that George W. Bush was quick to use to take care of a lawsuit filed by the former caretaker of an 18-member fishing club to which both Bush and Francis belonged. The caretaker, says Francis, had been fired by the membership and filed a lawsuit for wrongful termination. “He sued the club and the individual officers and just threw in suing Bush because he was governor of Texas, even though he’d never been an officer of the club,” Francis explains. Bush hired Miers, who was able to get the lawsuit against the governor dismissed. Miers’ work, or at least her loyalty, must have impressed Bush, because he returned the favor by appointing her chairwoman of the Texas Lottery Commission — “as bad a job as you could get,” notes Coggins, the former U.S. attorney. “Long hours with no upside.” There was also no pay, monthly meetings in Austin, and, during Miers’ five years, no shortage of controversy. MATTERS OF FAITH Still, talk about Miers inevitably leads back to her signature qualities — meticulousness and an exacting attention to detail. “She’s triple thorough,” notes Michael Boone, a name partner at Haynes and Boone in Dallas. Then, just as inevitably, the question turns to whether those qualities, combined with her background as a business litigator, are sufficient for a seat on the high court. “If you wanted somebody who was an expert in constitutional law, you would always go to the law schools,” argues Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, one of Miers’ closest friends and a fellow church member for 25 years. “But you also want somebody with practical experience and good judgment.” Besides, adds Hecht, who has been a judge in Texas since 1981, “a lot of Supreme Court work is statutory construction, trying to figure out what Congress meant. And statutory construction is akin to the construction of any written document, a contract or a will. And a lot of the work Harriet did was litigation over the meaning of documents and contracts. People don’t sit around thinking about the meaning of the commerce clause unless they want to.” There is also another subtext at work in much of the criticism of Miers, many here in Dallas believe. And that is the difficulty of understanding how a person of faith, someone who was baptized as an adult into a conservative Christian church, can reconcile that faith with a vow to make the rule of law one’s ultimate guide. Miers and Hecht and about 200 other congregants recently left their church, the Valley View Independent Christian Church, over a dispute involving the funding of overseas missionaries. But Dr. Barry McCarty, who has been the pastor at Valley View for nearly two years and knows Miers, is happy to explain how faith and real-world demand intersect. “For me, it’s very hard, deductive logic,” he says. “Speaking for myself, and not for Valley View or Harriet, if the Bible teaches that every unborn child is a living human, and the Constitution guarantees the right to life, then the conclusion is inescapable: that unborn children have an inalienable right to life.” But not every member of the Independent Christian Church or its closest doctrinal brethren, the Church of Christ, takes a literal view of the Old Testament. That depends on one’s view of the Bible, explains Douglas Foster, a professor of church history at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas, and a member of the Church of Christ. If you don’t view the Bible simply as a book of literal facts to be mastered, but a story about God’s nature, about a God of freedom, then it’s quite easy to frame issues of faith around a different question: of what’s best for people, Foster explains. “That’s a faith-based response which does not lock me into any answers — the principle of a person who thinks that the nature of God is to give to others,” he says. Miers’ theological views may never be known — or may be inferred as soon as she starts writing opinions. But fairness is one word that comes up frequently when Dallasites describe Miers; doctrinaire and overtly partisan are not. “Harriet is very fact- and law-driven,” says Francis. “I want a judge to be smart and fair, to apply the law regardless of who the parties are. And I would trust her decision-making process 100 percent with my life.” CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, it was reported that as a member of the ABA House of Delegates, Harriet Miers voted in 1997 in favor if ending the execution of violent criminals “unless and until greater fairness and due process prevail.” It is in fact unclear how Miers voted on the measure, which was adopted by the ABA.
T.R. Goldman reported from Dallas, and Lily Henning from Washington.

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