Analysis: The Harriet Miers Nomination

The nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bush did not come as a complete surprise. I wrote in my Sept. 19 FOX column that Miers was a dark-horse candidate if the president decided to nominate a woman.

I believe this was the first time her name had appeared in print as a serious prospect.

Miers was a logical pick for President Bush for a variety of reasons: She was a pioneering female attorney in Texas, as she was hired by a major Dallas firm in the early 1970s when few Southern law firms were hiring women. She rose to be co-managing partner of this very large firm, served as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association and loyally served President Bush in a variety of key positions during his first five years in office.

I first met Miers 35 years ago when she and I were both clerking for federal district judges in Dallas. I clerked for a Democratic judge, Sarah T. Hughes, and Miers clerked for a Republican judge, Joe Estes. Our paths have crossed on numerous occasions since then.

My first impressions of Miers as a 25-year-old attorney fresh out of SMU law school are very consistent with what the public sees today. First, she is a Republican — something that was not common in Texas in 1970. Second, she is very bright, hard-working and pleasant. There are none of the hard edges you sometimes find in women who have had to claw their way to the top of their profession.

Additionally, she is capable of understanding any issue presented to her as a justice and will put in long hours to carefully weigh the options. In this regard, she is very similar to the new Chief Justice John Roberts.

Miers served as cabinet secretary for the first four years of the Bush presidency, which meant that she was the last person to see every piece of paper that went to the president for his personal review. Most recently, she served as counsel to the president and one of her main duties was vetting potential nominees prior to the selection of Chief Justice Roberts. The process she orchestrated produced a quality nominee who was confirmed by a significant vote.

Critics will be concerned about the absence of a paper trial since she never served as a judge on any level and has a limited public record. This will concern people on both the left and the right but they will have ample opportunity to ask her detailed questions during the confirmation process.

Some in the legal profession will raise questions about her level of experience — she has never taught law school or served as a federal judge; however, some of the most outstanding justices on the court came up through the political route (as opposed to the judicial or scholarly route.) Chief Justice Earl Warren was governor of California before he was named to the court by President Eisenhower, and Hugo Black was a senator from Alabama before being nominated by President Roosevelt.

Miers' nomination will present an interesting quandary for activist women around the country. As I mentioned earlier, she was a legal pioneer in a very tough neighborhood. Southern law firms did not readily hire women in the early 1970s; nor did they advance women quickly to partnership, nor did they put them in a leadership position for the entire firm. She made all of this on merit. She may not have publicly advanced causes espoused by activist women (indeed, her positions on major issues are not well-known) but she is, in fact, a role model for women professionals in Texas.

There are other interesting aspects to her nomination. There currently are no Southerners on the court (individuals who spent their adult life in the South) and Miers is a somewhat soft-spoken Southern woman. However, no one should mistake her quiet nature for a lack of toughness or resolve. She is a steel magnolia — something hostile senators from both the left and right will find out when they try to embarrass her during the confirmation process.

The public doesn’t know everything about this particular Bush nominee, but I would urge the public, the press and members of the United States Senate to undertake the confirmation with an open mind, and I would urge the senators to do their homework. You can bet Harriet Miers will have done hers.

Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel, and is currently a fellow at the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.

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