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President Bush selects Harriet Miers for Supreme Court, dividing conservatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush reached Oct. 3 into his inner circle for a second nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, declining the opportunity to select from several judges whom pro-life and pro-family conservatives had promoted as candidates.

To the surprise of many, Bush chose White House Counsel Harriet Miers, 60, to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Miers has never served as a judge, although she has been a highly successful lawyer who was the first female president of the Texas Bar Association.

Social conservatives responded in a variety of ways to the news -– some applauding the selection, others saying they would reserve judgment, and yet others, especially on conservative, Internet weblogs, expressing exasperation and lambasting the president.

In announcing his decision from the White House oval office, Bush said Miers “will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws. She will not legislate from the bench.”

Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, “enthusiastically endorse[d]” the selection.

“Harriet Miers is an excellent choice with an extraordinary record of service in the legal community and is certain to approach her work on the high court with a firm commitment to follow the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Sekulow, who has provided advice to the White House on its judicial selections, in a written statement. He called Miers “bright, thoughtful and a consummate professional.”

Jan LaRue, chief counsel of Concerned Women for America, expressed cautious optimism.

“We give Harriet Miers the benefit of the doubt because thus far President Bush has selected nominees to the federal courts who are committed to the written Constitution,” LaRue said in a written release. “Whether we can support her will depend on what we learn from her record and the hearing process.”

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins struck a similar pose, saying he “had no reason to believe” Bush has abandoned his announced standard of choosing Supreme Court justices “in the mold of [conservatives] Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

“However, our lack of knowledge about Harriet Miers, and the absence of a record on the bench, give us insufficient information from which to assess whether or not she is indeed in that mold,” Perkins said in a written statement. “[W]e urge American families to wait and see if the confidence we have always placed in the president’s commitment is justified by this selection.”

Focus on the Family founder James Dobson said Bush’s selections to the federal courts thus far have been in line with his promise “to appoint judges who will interpret the law rather than create it.”

“Based on the information known generally about Harriet Miers, and President Bush’s personal knowledge of her, we believe that she will not prove to be a lone exception,” Dobson said in a statement. “… We look forward to learning more about her at the confirmation hearings.”

While many grassroots conservatives expressed disillusionment with Bush’s decision, the larger pro-life, pro-family organizations did not announce opposition to Miers.

Conservatives had been hopeful that the president would nominate a judge from the federal appellate courts or state supreme courts whose record was conservative. Among the men and women who had been floated as possible replacements for O’Connor, who often voted opposite conservatives on such issues as abortion, were Samuel Alito of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals; Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit; Maura Corrigan of the Michigan Supreme Court; Edith Jones of the Fifth Circuit; Michael Luttig of the Fourth Circuit; Michael McConnell of the 10th Circuit; Priscilla Owen of the Fifth Circuit; and Karen Williams of the Fourth Circuit.

Since she has not served as a judge, Miers has no judicial record on such significant social issues as abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual activism.

On abortion, Nathan Hecht, a Texas Supreme Court justice and a close friend of Miers, told World Magazine editor in chief Marvin Olasky “her personal views are consistent with that of evangelical Christians.”

Hecht also told Olasky, according to an entry at www.worldmagblog.com, Miers is “an originalist -– that’s the way she takes the Bible” and the Constitution.

Miers has been a member of Valley View Christian Church, a conservative church in Dallas, for more than 25 years. A former pastor, Ron Key, told Olasky, “Our church is strong for life, but Harriet and I have not had any conversations on that.”

When Miers was president of the Texas bar in 1993, she led an effort to convince the American Bar Association to return to a neutral position on abortion, according to the Associated Press. Texas lawyers, including Miers, proposed the ABA hold a referendum on its stance regarding the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion legalizing abortion, but the lawyers’ organization rejected it, AP reported. The ABA still favors the Roe decision.

The leader of the Senate’s Democrats welcomed Miers’ nomination.

“I like Harriet Miers,” said Sen. Harry Reid, the minority leader. “As White House counsel, she has worked with me in a courteous and professional manner. In my view, the Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who has real experience as a practicing lawyer. The current justices have all been chosen from the lower federal courts. A nominee with relevant non-judicial experience would bring a different and useful perspective to the Court.”

Abortion rights and other liberal organizations, as well as some Democratic senators, urged Miers and the White House to be forthcoming in sharing her views.

Miers was a pioneer for female lawyers in Texas, becoming the first woman in a prominent Dallas firm in 1972 and the president of the firm in 1996. She was president of the Dallas bar in the mid-1980s and was elected to a two-year term on the Dallas City Council in 1989. She was president of the Texas bar from 1992-93.

Bush named Miers to a six-year term on the Texas Lottery Commission in 1995.

O’Connor announced her retirement July 1 after serving 24 years on the high court. Bush named John Roberts to replace O’Connor but altered his plans after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died Sept. 3. The president then nominated Roberts as chief justice.

The Senate confirmed Roberts Sept. 29 in a 78-22 vote. Roberts’ first day presiding at oral arguments was the same day Miers’ nomination was announced.

Though she has announced her retirement, O’Connor has agreed to remain on the bench while her replacement goes through the confirmation process.

While nominees to the Supreme Court normally have come from other courts, Rehnquist and former Associate Justice Byron White did not. Rehnquist and White were the only justices to dissent from the Roe opinion.