Emerging supporter of Harriet Miers: businesses

Her experience in corporate law is needed on the court, they say.

Too close to the White House. Too few credentials. Not a bona fide conservative. By now, the right's criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers are well-known.

But nearly lost in the tide of comment is the Washington business community's developing interest in Ms. Miers. With on-the-ground experience in corporate law, she has a background that they say has been missing on the high court in recent years.

"Having two justices, [Chief Justice John] Roberts and Miers, who we expect to join him shortly, that's adding two to nothing from the point of view of that kind of experience. That's big for the business community," says Bruce Josten, the top lobbyist for the US Chamber of Commerce. He predicts that other business groups, many for the first time in their histories, will take a higher profile role in court fights.

"Business is getting involved for the first time because, in the last decade, we've had a litigation explosion in this country that is unmatched in the industrial world - $250 billion in annual tort costs, much of it paid by the business community," he adds. "There's a concern in having [justices] with an understanding of business and commercial law from a real-world perspective."

For more than a year before Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, the US Chamber had been evaluating potential candidates from federal circuit courts on the basis of their record on business issues and making its views known to the White House. "We were very proactive," says Josten, who says that Miers was not among those ranked, because she had never been a judge.

While the Chamber and other business groups, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, have yet to formally endorse Miers, they are talking up her business credentials.

"The president's nomination of Harriet Miers is a good pick for the US Supreme Court," said Chamber President and CEO Thomas Donohue in a statement just after her nomination on Oct. 3. "She has a reputation of getting things done and her diverse experience at the state and federal levels will be essential in guiding the court on an array of business and other issues."

Before joining Bush's inner circle during his years as Texas governor, Miers headed a corporate law firm in Dallas. Her former clients include Microsoft Corp., which she defended from a class-action suit, and the Walt Disney Company, for whom she handled a trademark infringement case.

But her experience in trying cases in court, former colleagues say, doesn't capture her specialty, which was keeping cases out of the courts - and the headlines.

"Harriet has a wealth of experience in counseling corporations in responding to not only matters that have been filed, either in court or in arbitration, but matters that have been threatened to be brought to suit," says Tom Connop, a partner in the firm of Locke, Liddell & Sapp, where Miers became the first female managing partner.

Not since Richard Nixon tapped Lewis Powell in 1971 has a president picked nominees with as much corporate experience as Chief Justice Roberts and, more recently, Miers. A corporate lawyer, Powell served on the boards of 11 corporations. Like Miers, he had not been a judge prior to his nomination.

"In looking at his tenure on the court, he repeatedly demonstrated a real sensitivity and understanding of the problems that business faces when it is involved in litigation," says Stephen Bokat, executive vice president of the National Chamber Litigation Center.

Meanwhile, public interest groups, who have not yet opposed Miers, are sifting through her corporate record for what it could mean for consumer issues.

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