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Published: Sunday, 10/9/2005

Bush's pick for Supreme Court tough and private

BY JAMES O'TOOLE
AND MICHAEL McGOUGH
Harriet Miers Harriet Miers
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If Harriet Miers, President Bush's nominee to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has a position about the constitutionality of abortion, Dallas lawyer Darrell Jordan should know what it is.

In 1993, when Ms. Miers was president of the Texas Bar Association, she and Mr. Jordan, a past president, tried unsuccessfully to have the American Bar Association abandon its pro-choice position.

Mr. Jordan was personally pro-choice, but he agreed with Ms. Miers that it was divisive for the national lawyers' group to take a position on abortion.

And what about Ms. Miers' personal views?

"I don't know that, at the end, I knew her personal views on abortion at all," Mr. Jordan said yesterday.

James Coleman, a Dallas lawyer who has known Ms. Miers since the early 1970s when she clerked for a federal district judge, said that Ms. Miers' circumspection extended beyond the abortion issue.

"From my observation of her, she was pretty apolitical," Mr. Coleman said. "Of course, we knew that she was close to George Bush, but she didn't wear her politics on her sleeve."

In Ms. Miers' march from one leadership position to another in the Texas legal community and on to the White House, she has earned a reputation for competence and diligence rather than for flamboyance or ideological zeal - one reason some conservative commentators and bloggers are expressing nervousness about her nomination.

Friends and colleagues yesterday painted a portrait of the White House counsel similar to that offered by Mr. Bush when he introduced his nominee yesterday as someone with "a record of achievement in the law."

Colleagues characterize her with words like "brilliant" and "insightful," and describe her as an effective litigator with a low-key courtroom manner. And while they conceded that her ascent to yesterday's nomination reflected her close relationship to a conservative Republican president, they said she brought a relatively apolitical approach to a series of high-profile professional and public positions - one that reflected an upbringing focused on achievement rather than activism.

Harriet Ellan Miers was born in Dallas on Aug. 10, 1945, in the final days of World War II. She grew up a solidly middle class community in North Dallas. Ron Natinsky, a classmate at Hillcrest High School and later a colleague on the Dallas City Council, said the Hillcrest students of that era "were still living kind of the Ozzie and Harriet sort of life."

"Drugs were yet to be a presence," Mr. Natinsky recalled. "We said, 'Yes, Ma'am, Yes Sir' to our teachers."

Of his classmate, he said: "I remember that she was involved in a lot of activities, but she wasn't part of the rah-rah, cheerleader-football crowd.

She was active but she was kind of under the radar."

From Hillcrest, Ms. Miers went on to get a degree in mathematics from Southern Methodist University in 1967. She went directly to SMU's law school, graduating in 1970.

Alan Bromberg, taught corporation law to the student who would go on to be a litigator in the corporate area, with clients including Microsoft and the Walt Disney Corp.

"My impression of her, reinforced by everything she's done since, is that she's very articulate, very smart, and very insightful," Mr. Bromberg said yesterday "She's thoughtful and willing to grapple with the tough questions which is exactly what you want in a judge."

Mr. Bromberg recalled that in that era women were very much a minority at SMU, as they were in law schools across the country.

"I don't think she was in any way intimidated," he said. "I think you see that in how quickly she rose to the top in a man's world, in a pretty elite law firm in Dallas, on city council, and then the state bar association."

After graduation from law school, Ms. Miers clerked for U.S. District Judge Joe Estes from 1970 to 1972. She then became the first woman hired at the Dallas firm of Locke Purnell Rain & Harrell, a firm she would later head.

Describing her professional manner, Tom Connop, a former partner said, "She is very direct but not offensively aggressive." With colleagues in the law firm, he said, "Her style was a lot of give and take. She would learn form those she worked with. "

In 1985, Ms. Miers was elected the first female president of the Dallas bar Association. In 1989, while still practicing law, Ms. Miers was elected to a two-year term on Dallas' nonpartisan City Council at a time when that body was shifting from at-large elections to elections by district.

Mr. Natinsky, her high school classmate, said she brought a substantive but subdued approach to council deliberations and showed little appetite for publicity. He knew she was a Republican, he said, "but I don't remember her being associated with a lot of big-time, high-profile Republican activity."

In 1992, Ms. Miers was elected president of the state bar association, the first woman to hold that position.

In 1994, Ms. Miers came to the attention of George W. Bush when she was asked to serve as general counsel for the transition team of the newly elected governor of Texas. The next year Governor Bush asked her to serve as chairman of the Texas Lottery Commission.

During five year tenure, Ms Miers was given credit for improving ethical and administrative procedures at a much criticized agency. One short-time executive director criticized Ms. Miers and other commission members over his firing, charging that he was a victim of political efforts to protect

Lawrence Littwin claimed that GTECH, the lottery's major contractor, used its political influence to have him fired.

In a lawsuit, later settled out of court, Mr. Littwin's lawyers suggested that former Lt. Gov. Ben Barnes, who was a lobbyist for GTECH until January, 1997, helped the company keep its state contract to run the lottery in exchange for keeping silent about how he had helped a young Mr. Bush get into the National Guard in the late 1960s. Mr. Barnes denied the allegations.

It was during this time that Governor Bush referred Ms. Miers as "a pit bull in size 6 shoes."

The Associated Press quoted a former lottery employee as saying of her, "Although she is a small framed woman, we all believed that she went through the Marines and maybe, also, ate nails for breakfast."

In March, 1996, Ms. Miers was elected the first female president of Locke Purnell Rain & Harrell, at that time a firm of about 200 lawyers.

Three years later, the firm merged with a Houston law firm to become, Locke Liddell & Sapp, and Ms. Miers became the new firm's co-managing partner.

Like other lawyers, Ms. Miers contributed to political candidates through political action committees, but was a relatively modest political donor by the standards of major law firms. She primarily contributed to Republicans but also gave to Democrats, including Al Gore in his first run for the presidency in 1988.

According to Federal Election Commission reports, Ms. Miers donated $1,000 to Mr. Gore, then a U.S. senator from Tennessee seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Mr. Gore eventually bowed out and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis secured the nomination.

In 2000, Ms. Miers contributed to the presidential campaign of. George W. Bush, who was running against Mr. Gore, then the vice president, that year.

When the votes were still being counted in Florida and the outcome was in doubt, she gave $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney Inc. Recount Fund, according to the nonpartisan Political MoneyLine.

In 2001 Ms Miers followed Mr. Bush to Washington, taking the position of assistant to the president and staff secretary in which she was responsible for supervising the flow of paper reaching the president's desk.

She also defended administration policies to the public, including in an on-line chat with young people in 2004.

When "Alba from Texas" asked Ms. Miers if schools were receiving adequate funding under the No Child Left behind Act, Ms. Miers replied: "Hello to a fellow Texan! Thanks for your question about funding for No Child Left Behind. I am glad to be able to address this important question because there is a great deal of misinformation out there about the funding for NCLB. The simple answer to your question is 'yes.'‚óŹ" Ms. Miers was named counsel to the President in February of this year, succeeding Alberto Gonzales when he became U.S. attorney general. As counsel she was instrumental, among other things, in supervising the search for the man who may be her new colleague, Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr.

Ms. Miers, 60, is single. She has three brothers and a mother still living in Texas. Among her oldest friends is Nathan Hecht, a conservative justice of the Texas Supreme Court.

Asked to characterize their relationship, he said, "We're close friends. We've seen each other for years. Everyone asks, 'Did you date?' My only objection to the term is it sounds like teenagers."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Michael McGough is a Washington Bureau reporter for The Blade and Post-Gazette and Jim O'Toole is a reporter for the Post Gazette. Also, the Associated Press contributed to this report.



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