Miers' Background, Experience Draw Scrutiny

Published October 05, 2005

| Associated Press

Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers (search) backed equal rights for gays, favored the advancement of women and minorities, and packed a Smith & Wesson revolver as she exercised her right to bear arms.

And some of her actions clearly suggest she opposes abortion.

Decade-old writings, a 1989 campaign questionnaire — even a ticket purchase from years past — are getting closer scrutiny as Republicans and Democrats furiously try to figure out where President Bush's choice stands on the most contentious issues.

Miers' tenure as White House counsel, corporate lawyer and Dallas city council member provide several clues. The question is whether years-old material still reflects her views and could serve as an accurate guide to how she might decide constitutional matters.

"I don't know where her life journey has taken her since 1989," said Louise Young (search), a founding member of the Lesbian/Gay Coalition of Dallas. "She never did anything anti-gay. But you never know where people go in the political spectrum over the years."

Miers filled out a survey from the group in her successful campaign for the city council in which she favored equal civil rights for gays and said the city had a responsibility to pay for AIDS education and patient services. She opposed repeal of the Texas sodomy statute — a law later overturned by the court on which she will sit if confirmed.

A decade before the 2001 terrorist attacks, Miers defended constitutional freedoms in a time of danger, with words that would hearten two groups of activists in the post-Sept. 11 world of added police powers — civil libertarians and the gun lobby.

"The same liberties that ensure a free society make the innocent vulnerable to those who prevent rights and privileges and commit senseless and cruel acts," she wrote in Texas Lawyer when she was president of the state bar. "Those precious liberties include free speech, freedom to assemble ... access to public places, the right to bear arms and freedom from constant surveillance.

"We are not willing to sacrifice these rights because of the acts of maniacs."

Miers once owned a .45-caliber revolver, a gift from a brother who was worried about her safety when she lived alone in Dallas, says Judge Nathan Hecht (search) of the Texas Supreme Court, who has known Miers for 30 years and has dated her.

"It's a huge gun — he wanted to be sure she stopped the guy," Hecht said in a telephone interview. The judge recalled one Sunday afternoon driving out to the country, setting up tin cans on a dirt road and trying to teach Miers how to shoot.

Her aim? "She was terrible," said Hecht, who added that she kept the gun for a long time but said he was unsure if she ever fired it again.

On the issue that commands the most attention for court nominees, Miers pressed unsuccessfully to have the American Bar Association put its policy in favor of abortion rights to a vote of the membership, showing a sensitivity, at least, to the anti-abortion movement, if not outright support of it.

Hecht said she has attended Valley View Christian Church, an evangelical church in Dallas, for 25 years and "their position is pro-life and I'm sure her views are compatible with theirs."

In an interview with The Washington Post, Hecht recalled Miers emerging from a lecture at the church in the 1980s and saying, "I'm convinced that life begins at conception."

Miers bought a $150 ticket to a Texas anti-abortion group's fundraising dinner in 1989, the year she won a term on the Dallas city council, the group's president said. Kyleen Wright of the Texans for Life Coalition, then called Texans United for Life, said the dinner drew about 30 other officeholders or candidates as "bronze patrons," the lowest level of financial support.

"One would have to assume she is at least moderately pro-life, but how far that commitment goes, I really don't know," Wright said. "No one I know in the pro-life or pro-family movement knows her, locally or around the state."

In 1992, Miers said presidents have no business asking court nominees to toe their line on abortion.

"Nominees are clearly prohibited from making such a commitment and presidents are prohibited from asking for it," she said. People who think such inquiries are proper show "a misunderstanding of the separation of powers by proposing that judicial nominees should mirror a president's views."

On gay rights, her responses to the questionnaire are a paradox. Still, a leading gay-rights group credited her Tuesday with an open mind.

"It's only a small window into her thinking," said Joe Solmonese (search), president of the Human Rights Campaign, "but it certainly, for me, raises the possibility that she's more fair-minded than our opponents are hoping."

The question on civil rights on the old survey did not pin respondents down on any of the issues typically associated with gay equality today, such as domestic partner benefits or same-sex unions. Kelly Shackelford (search), president of the socially conservative Free Market Foundation, played down the significance of Miers' answer, saying he, too, could have answered yes to it.

Shackelford credited her with "basic Texas down-home values."

Solmonese said the fact Miers even came to a meeting of a Dallas gay and lesbian group to answer its questions suggested a wish to reach out.

"She's pro-family but not condemnatory," Hecht said.

Miers asserted during her city council campaign that "employers should be able to pick the best qualified person for any position, to be filled considering all relevant factors," a position that does not seem in support of mandatory affirmative action. In her own legal career, she broke a glass ceiling and led the way for others.

In 1972, Miers was the first woman hired by the Dallas law firm of Locke Purnell Rain Harrell, when Texas was far from friendly terrain for female attorneys.

Linda Eads (search), a law professor at Southern Methodist University who was deputy attorney general in Texas, recalls inappropriate questions during job interviews as well as male attorneys who couldn't imagine a high-powered woman at their firm.

The questions ranged "from what I was doing about birth control to how could you possibly think union leaders would want to talk to a girl," Eads said.

At Locke Purnell, Miers worked to ensure that more women joined the firm.

Tom Connop, a partner at the firm — now known as Locke Liddell & Sapp — said Miers was an advocate of employing not only women but minorities, reflected in the more than a dozen female associates in 1984.

In 1996, Miers became the firm's first female president.

"Every woman lawyer in Dallas, Texas, owes a debt to Harriet Miers," said Robin P. Hartmann, a partner with the Dallas law firm of Haynes and Boone who argued cases with and against Miers.

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