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Choice of Miers Draws Mixed Political Reviews


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush is defending his choice of White House counsel Harriet Miers to replace Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Speaking right now at a White House news conference, the president has called on the Senate to hold prompt confirmation hearings for Miers.

(Soundbite of news conference)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: She's eminently qualified. She shares my judicial philosophy. She is a pioneer when it comes to the law. She's an extraordinary woman.

MONTAGNE: President Bush said he did not know Harriet Miers' views on one key issue sure to come before the high court: abortion.

Pres. BUSH: There is no litmus test. What matters to me is her judicial philosophy. What does she believe the role--the proper role of the judiciary is relative to the legislative and the executive branch?

MONTAGNE: President Bush now holding a press conference at the White House. This is the president's first big news conference since last May. We will continue to cover the president's remarks in this hour.

Reporters at the White House aren't the only ones with questions about President Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the US Supreme Court. Much of the GOP leadership supports the nomination, but some conservatives are expressing disappointment. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.


Texas Republicans and Democrats who've known Miers for decades vouch for her intellectual and legal skills, though none claims to know her views on the hot-button legal issues of the day. Former Democratic Congressman Martin Frost says Miers is a woman of substance with real-world experience.

Former Representative MARTIN FROST (Democrat, Texas): Anybody who tries to tangle with her during a confirmation process may be very disappointed. And remember, there's no Southerner on the court. And there is enough Southern lady in her voice that she will make a very interesting presentation. She is a steel magnolia.

TOTENBERG: As for Miers' confirmation prospects, it seems unlikely that any Republican senator would vote against her, and yesterday, Democratic senators held their fire. Indeed, some, like Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, seemed downright pleased.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): I just understand the broad outline of this woman, you know? And the broad outline looks really good to me.

TOTENBERG: But outside the Senate, reaction among many conservatives ranged from resignation to outright anger. `We give Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt,' said Jan LaRue of the conservative group Concerned Women for America. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum called the nomination an unforced error. And Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute said that the nomination was evidence the administration is losing its grip.

The frustration was evident when conservative icon Rush Limbaugh, in an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney, bemoaned the fact that the president had not chosen a jurist with a demonstrative conservative track record.

(Soundbite of interview)

Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH: ...we could win the fight and that we could win the fight handedly and it would be a nail in the coffin of the left.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: You'll be proud of Harriet's record, Rush. Trust me.

TOTENBERG: But Bill Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, was in no mood for trust.

Mr. WILLIAM KRISTOL (The Weekly Standard): `Trust us' is a reasonable thing for a president to say about, certainly, his personal staff appointments and even about Cabinet appointments. The courts and the Supreme Court are really a different matter. They're not a kind of personal appointment by the president. This is a lifetime appointment. And I think it's somewhat inappropriate, really, to pick your personal lawyer.

TOTENBERG: Miers' lack of a written judicial record will inevitably refocus attention on her long legal career, a career marked by firsts--first woman partner in a large Texas law firm, first woman president of the Texas bar--but also a career marked by a loyalty to then-Governor and now President Bush, and by representation of a wide variety of business interests.

In the coming days, the finances of the law firm she once ran and the cases she worked on will all be examined, as will be her positions as a bar leader and her brief service on the Dallas City Council, where she was elected after running largely unopposed. Already aspects of her city council run are drawing attention. In filling out a questionnaire from a gay rights organization, Miers said she favored equal employment and housing rights for homosexuals, but she opposed repeal of the Texas anti-sodomy law that made private consenting homosexual conduct a crime. The law was subsequently struck down by the US Supreme Court by a vote of 6-to-3.

On the question of abortion, Miers, as a leader of the Texas bar, campaigned to have the national American Bar Association rescind its pro-choice position. The effort failed. If confirmed, Miers would be the third woman to serve on the nation's highest court. First lady Laura Bush had made no secret of her wish to have the seat being vacated by the retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor filled by a woman. Indeed, O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the court, had also indicated that was her wish.

Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg
Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.