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The woman who would be justice

Hard-working. Shy. Thorough. That's how colleagues describe court nominee Harriet Miers.

By Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor, Kris AxtmanStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / October 5, 2005


In a town of workaholics, the schedule of White House counsel Harriet Miers might be hard to top. The newest nominee to the US Supreme Court is said to work routinely from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m., but only the Secret Service can confirm that.

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"Actually, 10 p.m. would probably be an early night," says Kristen Silverberg, who worked with Ms. Miers at the White House until a month ago. And in the morning, "when you [went] into the West [Executive] parking spaces, her red car was always there." The red car? A Mercedes - but not a flashy shade of red, adds Ms. Silverberg, now an assistant secretary of State.

In interviews with friends and colleagues past and present, the same adjectives come up over and over again: hard-working, shy, thorough, caring, devoted to serving her clients. Since 2001, there has been just one client, President Bush.

Since Miers arrived in Washington as a part of Mr. Bush's coterie of trusted Texas advisers, her personal views and ambitions have not been on display. Now she has catapulted into the high-stakes position of Supreme Court nominee, territory that has brought sudden, intense interest in - and concern about - her personal and judicial philosophy.

At a press conference Tuesday, Bush spoke of Miers's character and intellect, but added nothing about her views. He says he has never asked her personal opinion on the subject of abortion.

"I've known her long enough to know she's not going to change," Bush said. "Twenty years from now she will be the same person with the same judicial philosophy she has today."

His comment appeared to be an attempt to convince doubters that she would not be another Justice David Souter, who was appointed to the bench by Bush's father and who has proved not to be the conservative many Republicans had hoped for.

Born-again Christian

Other clues about Miers are few. She is a churchgoing woman, reportedly a born-again Christian, after a Catholic upbringing. Lorlee Bartos, the woman who ran her campaign for Dallas City Council in 1989, tells The Dallas Morning News that Miers strongly opposed abortion rights at the time, but has not discussed the issue with her subsequently. In 1992, as head of the Texas bar, she opposed the American Bar Association's (ABA) decision to support abortion rights.

"But there are two ways to look at that," says Gary Polland, a Houston lawyer and Republican activist who knows Miers. "Either it means she believes the ABA should be pro-life, or maybe she thought the ABA shouldn't be involved in those issues.... Here's the bottom line: She's a good lawyer, she's smart, and beyond that, who knows?"

The bulk of Miers's 35-year career has been spent in private legal practice. After graduating from Southern Methodist University law school in 1970, she clerked for US District Judge Joe E. Estes.

In 1972, she was the first woman hired at the Dallas law firm Locke, Purnell, Rain & Harrell. In 1985, she became the first female president of the Dallas Bar Association, and in 1992, the first woman president of the Texas State Bar.

In 1996, she was elected first female president of Locke Purnell, the first woman to lead a big Texas law firm (at the time, it employed 200 lawyers).

During her years as a trial litigator, her clients included Microsoft, Walt Disney Co., and SunGard Data Systems Inc. But along the way, her path crossed with Bush, who would become her most influential client, as she advised him on matters both private and public. In 1995, then-Texas Governor Bush made her chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission in an effort to clean it up.

"I am a very big admirer of Harriet's skill and knowledge, her style and intensity," says C. Tom Clowe, Jr., current chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission, who worked with Miers for more than two years before she left for Washington. "She's very businesslike. She's fair and equitable. And those who have criticized her as harsh, I don't see that. I see a well-balanced and even-handed individual who has great respect for the law and legal issues."