A pivotal choice

October 04, 2005

Call it the Dick Cheney precedent. President Bush has chosen Harriet Miers, the White House counsel, who was helping him pick the next Supreme Court justice, as the best person to fill the slot -- just as he chose Mr. Cheney, who led the vice presidential search in 2000, for that job. But unlike Mr. Cheney, who had vast government and corporate experience before becoming vice president, Ms. Miers comes to this nomination with a rather narrow rM-isumM-i.

For an administration that very recently experienced the pitfalls of government by cronyism, Mr. Bush's choice of a trusted adviser who once served as his personal lawyer is more than curious, it's chilling. This is a critical nomination because Sandra Day O'Connor, the justice whom Ms. Miers would replace, has often provided the court's pivotal swing vote. Mr. Bush invited the Senate to review Ms. Miers' qualifications "thoroughly and fairly," and it should do just that.

With no prior experience as a judge, Ms. Miers, 60, follows the example of the late William H. Rehnquist when he became an associate justice. It also means that there's not much of a paper trail giving clues to her views. All the more reason for the White House not to be stingy in releasing as many documents as possible related to her service there, including as staff secretary, deputy chief of staff and White House counsel.

Most of Ms. Miers' career has been spent in private law practice in Dallas -- where she was born -- specializing in civil litigation and representing business and individual interests. She helped corporations such as Disney and Microsoft defend against class action lawsuits. Yet Mr. Bush also praised her extracurricular work with community organizations and her pro bono efforts to secure adequate legal representation for "the poor and underserved." Her experience as a trial lawyer was cited as a plus by the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, while uncertainty about her views on hot-button social issues such as abortion is already causing consternation among some stalwart conservatives who constitute Mr. Bush's political base.

While serving as president of the Texas Bar Association, Ms. Miers was involved in an unsuccessful 1993 effort to have a pro-choice resolution that had been passed by the American Bar Association's House of Delegates reconsidered by the entire organization. She was concerned that the issue was too divisive and was causing a loss of members.

Who is the real Harriet Miers? She's still an enigma -- to be revealed as the confirmation process gets under way.

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