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Bush's unconventional choice

Harriet Miers, nominee to the high court, has never been a judge, so paper trail is short.

By Linda Feldmann, Warren Richey,Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / October 4, 2005


From a reputed short list of potential US Supreme Court nominees crowded with conservative judicial stars, President Bush has selected a woman he knows well personally and trusts - but who brings to the table little public record on which to assess her views.

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Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, has never been a judge and is not a recognized expert on constitutional law, in sharp contrast to the new chief justice, John Roberts.

Still, she has diverse experience, including many years in private law practice, and political experience that none of the sitting justices has, both as a member of the Dallas City Council and, for the past five years, as a member of Mr. Bush's White House inner circle. Before being named counsel 10 months ago, Ms. Miers had served as assistant to the president, staff secretary, and deputy chief of staff.

As the replacement for the retiring Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman justice, Miers would maintain the presence of two women on the court, and perhaps also present a counterweight to the liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In announcing her nomination Monday morning, Bush said she "stood out as exceptionally well suited to sit on the highest court of our nation."

Reaction to Miers's selection was swift and varied, from across the political spectrum. Some conservatives expressed enthusiasm; others moaned that she is unqualified and, more troubling, a stealth nominee who cannot be counted upon to side with the conservatives, especially on incendiary social issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the church-state divide.

From the left, the cries of cronyism were equally piercing, aimed at a president under fire of late for placing appointees of questionable qualifications in central positions, such as federal emergency management and immigration. Miers's selection also harks back to Bush's naming of Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2000, when Mr. Cheney headed up the Bush team's veep vetting process.

But just as striking were the words of encouragement from a key Democrat, Senate minority leader Harry Reid. Senator Reid, in fact, acknowledges that he recommended Miers for the nomination. In a statement after Bush's announcement, Reid said, "... the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer."

Miers now faces the daunting challenge of following John Roberts to the witness chair in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chief Justice Roberts came to the table with a golden résumé and no questions over qualifications, just over judicial philosophy. Miers will need to show enough senators that she has the legal chops to merit lifetime appointment to the nation's ultimate appeals court.

Democrats are going see her as "someone who has distinguished herself purely through political appointments," says Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and a judicial confirmation expert. "It is hard to look at her career and think that the next logical step for her from White House counsel is to be on the Supreme Court of the United States."