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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 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. A former corporate litigator, her only experience in public office is serving one term as a Member-At-Large on the Dallas City Council. Miers’ paper trail is minimal, perhaps more scanty than even 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.” Miers 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. Bush named Miers White House counsel late last year, after her predecessor, Alberto Gonzales became attorney general. She moved to Washington from her home in Dallas to become President Bush’s staff secretary in 2001. 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 resume of a Supreme Court nominee. 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.” Unlike many Supreme Court justices, whose undergraduate and law degrees come from some of the country’ most prestigious universities, Miers went to Dallas’ Southern Methodist University for both her undergraduate degree in mathematics and her J.D. After graduating from law school, she 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 her 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 Nixon in 1971, also had no prior judicial experience. But he had been president of the American Bar Association and was considered one of the foremost legal minds in the country, Yalof said. 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, Yalof adds, two of President Harry Truman’s appointees lacked a background on the bench. Yalof said the White House will almost certainly paint Miers as a pioneering women 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. But that’s the difference between now and 1981 and 1993 respectively,” said Yalof. “There’s a sense now that there are so many highly qualified women to choose from. Ninety minutes after the choice was announced, the liberal interest group People for the American Way released a statement 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 background to the nominee and was rumored to be a Supreme Court candidate himself, released a statement praising Miers’ credentials. The question remains whether those credentials are so overwhelmingly outstanding that Miers can overcome the recent history of nominees having federal court experience. But, said professor Yalof, the nomination, like that of Justice Roberts, also puts Democrats in a bind. “She really is a complete blank slate in terms of her judicial ideology. 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, should could be replaced by somebody who’s much more of a conservative ideologue. “It’s the blank slate as a wild card.”

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