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Harriet Miers has one of the thinnest paper trails of any Supreme Court nominee. She has rarely, if ever, expressed an opinion on the crucial social issues of the day — at least to anyone willing to go public. But two weeks into the tumult surrounding her nomination, some things about Miers are clear: She is scrupulous, deferential to authority, and follows the rules — not just in law but in life. And that, more than anything else, say those who know her, will determine how Miers interprets the Constitution and how she will judge. “Harriet’s is a life that adheres to fundamental tenets of good behavior and right conduct, whether drawn from the Bible or the rules of work,” says Stuart Bowen, who worked directly under Miers as deputy staff secretary at the White House for almost two years. “She is wedded to stare decisis, wedded to the text of a statute. She lives her life strictly construed.” Her minister, the Rev. Ron Key, who has known Miers since the late 1970s, when she was baptized and joined the Valley View Christian Church, agrees.� “The way Harriet would be [on the Court], she would try to interpret the Constitution according to [the idea that] it says what it means and means what it says,” Key says. “And I assume that’s how she interprets the Bible. I would imagine she would think that.” While the religious beliefs of a Court nominee aren’t normally the stuff of intense scrutiny, President George W. Bush linked Miers’ religion and her jurisprudence last week. “People are interested to know why I picked Harriet Miers,” he told reporters. “They want to know as much as they possibly can before they form opinions. And part of Harriet Miers’ life is her religion.” Beyond those beliefs, Miers is a person of integrity, intelligence, and discipline, someone whose work ethic gets her into the office before anyone else, and keeps her there later, say those who know her well. These traits, among others, helped Miers break glass ceilings in Dallas.� She is also fastidious — “ultra-fastidious,” Bowen calls her — and it is this trait that he believes would define her Supreme Court tenure. “Ultra-fastidiousness means strict constructionist,” he says. “She would defer to what the legislature wanted. She’s a literalist when it comes to the laws. That’s how I would see her executing the rules in the White House,” adds Bowen, now the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction. For Miers’ conservative supporters, who are hoping that her apparent adulation of Bush will ensure a voting record designed not to disappoint the president, her meticulousness may have unintended results. “I don’t see her beholden to Bush,” says Bowen, who believes Miers is a credible Supreme Court nominee. “Because of this fastidious commitment to doing the right thing, she will get in there and understand the rules of the game, what the Court’s already decided, and what did the legislation or administration rules say that defined the scope of conduct.” But strictly holding to what’s come before isn’t simple. An adherence to stare decisis, or precedent, which would argue in favor of keeping Roe v. Wade intact, could conflict with a strict constructionist’s view of the Constitution, which, of course, could support overturning Roe. Notes one Miers supporter, a lawyer involved in the confirmation process: “Attention to detail can break in either direction. The idea that this sort of punctiliousness leads you in the direction of saying she’s in favor of stare decisis, it can lead you just as easily in the other direction. The answer is, who the hell knows?” TURNING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT Given her personality, Miers’ decision to attend the Valley View Christian Church, which she joined in 1979 while in her mid-30s, can be viewed as the result of a typically deliberative process. Valley View is technically nondenominational, but that’s because it is a so-called independent Christian church and is not beholden to a governing body. Its theological doctrines, however, are closely related to two American denominations, the slightly more conservative Church of Christ and the more liberal Disciples of Christ, both of which trace their roots to just after the Revolutionary War. (Miers recently joined a group of some 200 people who left Valley View to start another independent Christian church in North Dallas known as Cornerstone Christian Church, where Key is now preaching.) The original idea behind the formation of the movement, explains Douglas Foster, a professor of church history at Abilene Christian University, was to bring about a unity of Christians from the patchwork of denominations that had sprung up in Catholicism and Protestantism. In other words, “a restoration of the ancient Gospel and order of things” as the movement’s two founders, Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell, envisioned it. Such a restoration would bring back the original Christian church, and do so by using the text of the New Testament as its guide — an idea very much akin to a strict constructionist reading of the Constitution. “It was a post-Revolutionary idea, based on an Enlightenment assumption about the rationality of man, using the Bible as a book of facts and a book of data,” Foster explains. The irony was that the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement soon developed its own schisms, which continue to this day. There remain similarities; all three groups celebrate Communion every week, something that also occurs at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington, where Miers often attends with Bush. And because of their emphasis on Scriptures, the Church of Christ, the independent Christian churches, and the Disciples of Christ are not overtly political — at least not by design. “Our principal mission is to teach the Bible,” explains Valley View Christian’s the Rev. Barry McCarty. “And in teaching the Bible, we address moral issues. We may even touch on relevant modern ethical issues like abortion, but we’re not trying to.” Although McCarty says a majority of his church members “have a pro-life view and practice that,” he adds, “we don’t organize busloads of people for [anti-abortion] rallies.” In Washington, where religious faith is often confined to quiet Sunday-morning gatherings, it can be easy to stereotype Miers as an evangelical zealot. Unlike those who remain with the religion into which they were born, Miers had a conversion experience as an adult, and was baptized in a large cistern that sits high above the Valley View altar. It was a time in Miers’ life when her professional accomplishments were starting to mount. She had made partner at her law firm, then known as Locke Purnell Rain & Harrell, in 1978. But Miers, who was raised Catholic, was looking for a more profound experience. It’s a sentiment that McCarty has seen often, although he wasn’t at Valley View when Miers joined. “As people achieve their goals, they’ve tasted success, but they’re still looking for significance,” he notes. A SENSE OF BELONGING Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, Miers’ longtime friend and a member of Valley View when she converted, explains it this way: “There can be a kind of anonymity in the Catholic Church. There shouldn’t be, but it’s the same problem any church can have. Harriet was looking for a little more incentive to make it personal; she was looking for a deeper commitment. “Church should not be something you do on Saturday night or Sunday morning,” he continues. “It shouldn’t just be a checklist item.” Evangelical churches all follow a few basic tenets: that Jesus is the only way to salvation, that the Bible is the authoritative word of God, that nonbelievers must be proselytized, and that a personal conversion must occur. But though they share basic tenets of faith, evangelical churches are not monolithic, says John Green, a professor at the University of Akron who studies evangelism. “The Bush administration is assuming that Harriet Miers’ religious background as an evangelical will persuade many evangelicals to support her nomination. But that’s too simple an argument,” says Green. “They are a fairly diverse group who recognize that even among their own ranks there are different views on political issues, let alone the great social issue of the day.” One common thread, adds Green, is that evangelicals “tend to regard religion as very important in their life and that the demands of their faith are frequently on their mind.” He notes that “this psychological state does create a distinctiveness, and the people who hold these beliefs really are different.” But, Green emphasizes, “the differences are by no means absolute.” And questions about day-to-day issues can lead members of the same evangelical community to very different interpretations. For example, would Jesus drive a gas-guzzling SUV? “Some people say he would never drive an SUV,” notes Green, “others say that he would use it to pick up poor people and take them to lunch.” For Brady Sparks, a Dallas lawyer and evangelical Presbyterian who’s known Miers for 30 years, the notion that her legal views would be influenced by her religious beliefs is laughable. “When you become a Christian in the true sense of having a conversion experience and having a relationship with Jesus Christ, that doesn’t mean you walked out and had a frontal lobotomy,” he says. Miers, says Sparks, has spent her life following the law. “How do you function in a secular society if you take the Bible at its word? By respecting and believing, and, in Harriet’s case, by devoting your life to maintaining the rule of law. What that means for her is not that much different from the founding fathers.”
T.R. Goldman can be contacted at [email protected].

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