Miers' early life showed many parallels with O'Connor's

October 04, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - In May, the Texas Center for Legal Ethics and Professionalism gave Harriet E. Miers its second annual Sandra Day O'Connor Award. Yesterday, President Bush proposed Miers for something a little bit bigger: Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court.

The parallels to the woman she would succeed are apparent.

Both were born in Texas. Both graduated at the top of their law school class, yet had trouble finding jobs.

Both served in elective office, O'Connor in the Arizona state Senate and Miers a single two-year term on the Dallas City Council, but neither had been a federal judge.

Both have now made history - beyond their wildest early dreams.

"I really came out of high school believing I wasn't bright enough to be a doctor," Miers told The Dallas Morning News in 1991. "Career days at high school, you just got no encouragement."

It has been a long time since Miers lacked encouragement, and for the past 12 years she has had the support of a important patron.

By 1993, when Bush first ran for governor of Texas, he wanted a solid lawyer on his staff to handle a politician's delicate personal tasks, including scrutinizing his own past.

His first two choices declined, but both mentioned a quiet, deceptively sharp Dallas lawyer: Miers, who just happened to be the first female president of the Texas bar association.

Bush had met her briefly, when she was escorted to a Texas political dinner by Justice Nathan Hecht of the state Supreme Court, a frequent companion then and now.

"She got to be pretty close to him in that race since she was dotting all the i's," Hecht said in a recent interview. "In not too long a time, they all realized she was a person to go to for good, sensible advice on all manner of things."

Miers has been a go-to person for Bush ever since, first as his appointee to the Texas Lottery Commission, then in the midst of a scandal that she helped clean; then as White House staff secretary, where she directed the flow of presidential papers; then as a deputy White House chief of staff; and since the beginning of this year, White House counsel, the president's in-house lawyer.

She is known among friends and associates as a hardworking and thorough advocate, someone staunchly loyal to Bush and possessing an unusual ability to remain calm and out of public view in the glare of the White House.

What she is not known for are her personal views on the hottest legal and political issues of the day.

She has never been a judge, and she appears not to have written any legal articles espousing a point of view. Her friends and acquaintances say they are genuinely at a loss to describe with certainty her political, judicial or philosophical leanings.

"I think she's conservative in the sense that most lawyers are conservative, that she looks at the issues in that case," said Linda Eads, a professor at the Southern Methodist University law school, from which Miers graduated and to which she returned as an adjunct professor. "I don't know her to be an ideologue."

Diane Ragsdale, a liberal Democrat who served on the Dallas City Council with Miers, said that the two had differed on some policy issues but that Miers was thorough in studying every issue.

"She's not a [Justice Antonin] Scalia," Ragsdale said. "She's not going to legislate from the court. I believe she will follow the law."

Until she joined the Bush administration in 2000, Miers' whole life was based in Dallas and revolved around her legal work, her involvement in the professional bar, her family and an attachment to an evangelical church that had led her to what her former pastor described as a late-in-life flowering of faith.

She came of professional age at a time when opportunities for female corporate lawyers in Texas were comparatively few, but she seized them. She was on a track to become president of the American Bar Association when she came to Washington instead.

Now 60, Miers has never married but is close to her extended family and still relishes the Texas tradition of "Friday night lights" at her nephew's high school football games.

"I think the one thing that comes across is she genuinely cares about people, at every level - professionally, personally, socially," said Hugh Hackney, a lawyer in Dallas who has known Miers since their undergraduate days at SMU.

"She has always taken a great deal of time to really consider other people."

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