TOPICS > Politics

Who Is Harriet Miers?

October 3, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

KWAME HOLMAN: During his Oval Office announcement this morning, President Bush described White House counsel Harriet Miers as exceptionally well-suited to sit on the high court.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: She has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice.

KWAME HOLMAN: Citing her three decades as a private attorney in Texas, the president called Miers a pioneer and an appropriate replacement for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Harriet was the first woman to be hired at one of Dallas’s top firms, the first woman to become president of that firm, the first woman to lead a large law firm in the state of Texas. Harriet also became the first woman president of the Dallas Bar Association and the first woman elected president of the state bar of Texas.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president acknowledged that Miers never served as a judge, but cited two prominent former justices who also had no previous experience on the bench.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ve come to agree with the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who wrote about the importance of having judges who are drawn from a wide diversity of professional backgrounds. Justice Rehnquist himself came to the Supreme Court without prior experience on the bench, as did more than 35 other men, including Byron White.

KWAME HOLMAN: If confirmed, the 60-year-old Miers would join Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court, and become only the third woman to have served there.

HARRIET MIERS: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much. I am very grateful for the confidence in me that you’ve shown by this nomination, and certainly I am humbled by it. It is the responsibility of every generation to be true to the founders’ vision of the proper role of the courts in our society. If confirmed, I recognize that I will have a tremendous responsibility to keep our judicial system strong and to help ensure that the courts meet their obligation to strictly apply the laws and the Constitution. As White House counsel, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with the members of the Congress, and that experience has given me an even greater appreciation for the role of the legislative branch in our constitutional system. And now I look forward to the next step in the process that has begun this morning, including the Senate’s consideration of my nomination.

KWAME HOLMAN: Shortly thereafter, Harriet Miers was greeted on Capitol Hill by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: Congratulations.

KWAME HOLMAN: She spent much of the day making courtesy calls to senators who will vote on her nomination. Chairman Specter described what he expected in the upcoming confirmation hearings.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: There needs to be, obviously, a very thorough inquiry into her background as a lawyer and her activities — people who will know her on the issues of character and integrity, which we will find out.

KWAME HOLMAN: As for Senate Democrats, their Leader Harry Reid said he was pleased with the president’s choice of Miers, someone he previously had asked the president to consider.

SEN. HARRY REID: I have to say without any qualification that I’m very happy we have someone like her.

KWAME HOLMAN: But California’s Dianne Feinstein said it’s difficult to make a judgment about Miers when so little is known about her.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN: She has never been a judge, as you know, so there’s no judicial record.

KWAME HOLMAN: Senate Leader Frist said he would press for confirmation by Thanksgiving. That would give lawmakers fewer than eight weeks to review her record, hold hearings, and vote.

JIM LEHRER: And to Gwen Ifill.

GWEN IFILL: So, who is Harriet Miers? For more background on the president’s Supreme Court nominee we turn to Susan Karamanian, associate dean at George Washington University Law School; she worked with Ms. Miers in Dallas for 14 years at the Locke, Liddell and Sapp law firm; and David Jackson, White House correspondent for the Dallas Morning News; he’s covered Ms. Miers since 1989 when she was elected to the Dallas City Council.

David Jackson who is Harriet Miers, tell us what you can tell us about her.

DAVID JACKSON: She is your basic high-powered corporate attorney from Dallas, Texas, which prizes corporate attorneys, and back in ’89 she was generally considered the business establishment’s candidate for the city council; back in the days when we had at-large city council members she was elected city wide.

GWEN IFILL: So how did she get from there to here?

DAVID JACKSON: Well, it is interesting to note. I was reviewing my notes and one of the issues during her term was whether Dallas should try to attack the Texas Rangers baseball team and the lead negotiator for the Rangers baseball team was a young man named George W. Bush. Now, I assume — I know their paths crossed back then but also Mr. Bush had just moved to Dallas and when you go looking for a lawyer, Harriet Miers is one of the names that would’ve come up so it’s not surprising that he wound up seeking legal advice from her down the line.

GWEN IFILL: Susan Karamanian, you worked with her for many years; how would you describe her?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: I would describe Harriet as smart, hardworking, thorough, fair and caring. All those attributes I associate when I think of Harriet Miers.

GWEN IFILL: How do those attributes translate into a Supreme Court nomination?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: Well, obviously for a Supreme Court justice you want somebody who can grasp facts, look at records, understand the law. Harriet has done that her entire career. She has the ability to size up situations and to be fair. And I think we want justices who are going to be true to the law, who understand the legal process, who have a degree of sophistication, so to speak, in working through difficult problems, and bring a fair mind to the process. I think this is a wonderful appointment.

GWEN IFILL: When you worked with her in Texas, what was — what marked her? What defined her? I notice there were some writings about her involvement in pro bono work, for instance.

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: Harriet early on when I first met her what defined her was first, here was a woman who had, through her own initiative and hard work made it easier for me to come along ten, fifteen years after the fact, and work in a major law firm as a woman, and not be concerned about issues. But secondly, Harriet was always concerned about outreach to the community, to being a professional in the sense of caring about your community, and that meant the disenfranchised, or those who are poor, who cannot afford a lawyer. Very early on she took me to a pro bono dinner and I was very interested in pro bono but it was very clear that after that dinner, we sat down and talked, and she said this is the beauty of being a lawyer, is being able to serve those in need.

GWEN IFILL: David Jackson when you first covered her she was an elected official. She had only served on the city council for a couple of years. But over the — you describe her as more of a corporate lawyer. Over the years has she betrayed any kind of political inclinations?

DAVID JACKSON: No, not at all. In fact, the one thing — there is not a lot of difference between her then and now. She was tight-lipped and kept her own counsel. I think there are people who have known here quite some time who have no idea what her real political views are, so these confirmation hearings are going to be quite illuminating for many people.

GWEN IFILL: Well, you’ve covered her at the White House since she was the staff secretary and she served the president as deputy chief of staff I believe, and most recently, of course, as White House counsel. How has she functioned in that environment, that West Wing environment?

DAVID JACKSON: Same way. You know, this White House prides itself on being quiet and she is maybe the most quiet official in there. You just can’t get her to say anybody about anything, except for the fact she thinks President Bush is doing a terrific job. But she’s not very talkative.

GWEN IFILL: So there are no clues that people who will be involving themselves in this confirmation process can turn to, and paper trail within the White House they can say she advocated for this or that?

DAVID JACKSON: Even one of her friends called her sphinx-like to me. So it’s very hard to say. Now, she gave money to Al Gore; that’s going to raise some hackles, but President Bush and Vice President Cheney went on a conservative talk show today to testify to her conservative bona fides. But there is a lot of mystery here.

GWEN IFILL: We should be clear. She gave money to Al Gore in 1988 —


GWEN IFILL: — not when he ran against President Bush — current President Bush. Let’s talk a little bit about judicial philosophy. Is there any way that you can help us explain what Harriet Miers’ judicial philosophy might be, Susan Karamanian?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: Well, Harriet is, as was just indicated, she has been active in the legal community in working on real cases for many years. And I think she is going to be committed like all lawyers to understanding the facts of the situation, and then to establishing what the law — what the law is in doing a thorough review of that law, and making sure then she can properly apply the law to the case. I mean that is how we are trained as lawyers. And as lawyers I would see her day in and out. That is what she did as a lawyer.

GWEN IFILL: Well, does that make her more of a Sandra Day O’Connor type, more of a John Roberts type is there any guidance that you can give us on that?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: I don’t like to put anybody in that kind of a box. What I can say is that she is doing what an excellent lawyer should do and has done. And that’s how, I think, she should be seen as a lawyer’s lawyer — just like some of the other candidates like John Roberts, somebody who has been in the trenches, so to speak, working very hard on cases. But she has a little extra dimension. She has had this public side such as serving on the Dallas City Council or being the state bar president, and making enormous commitment to issues regarding the legal profession in general through her work in the American Bar Association.

GWEN IFILL: David Jackson, in the ten hours since the president nominated her, it has already become lore that she sometimes gets to work at 4:30 in the morning and leaves at 10 o’clock at night. How — clearly there are some workaholic tendencies there, perhaps. How close is she to the president himself?

DAVID JACKSON: Very close. I think David Frum on his blog said she once told him that —

GWEN IFILL: David Frum, the conservative columnist.

DAVID JACKSON: And a former speechwriter for the White House.

GWEN IFILL: And a former White House speechwriter.

DAVID JACKSON: Said Ms. Miers told him she thought President Bush was the smartest man she’d ever knew. She is very loyal to him. She reminds me a little bit of a legal version of Karen Hughes. She is very loyal to the president and thinks he is absolutely a great leader.

GWEN IFILL: The other part of the lore is that the president described her famously as a pit bull in Size 6 shoes. What is the pit bull part? I keep hearing how diligent, how she much cares for the poor, all these other giving, wonderful things, but there’s a tough side?

DAVID JACKSON: Very much so, she is a corporate lawyer and she did legal work. And that is not for the squeamish. I’m told behind closed door she is very tough. I remember back during the city council had a big beef over redistricting and I’m told she was very tough behind closed doors and stood her ground well.

GWEN IFILL: Tell me about that, Susan Karamanian. What does tough mean?


GWEN IFILL: Any examples?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: Well Harriet can be firm. And she can be firm with me. She was always five steps ahead of me. And she sometimes would say you need to be thinking about this. You need to be thinking about that. She is — has the highest obligations to her clients, the fiduciary obligation to her client and she takes it very seriously so she can be quite firm.

On the other hand, she knows how to care for people. And so if somebody came to her with needs and they couldn’t afford a lawyer, in many instances she would dedicate her time the way she would dedicate it to a company; 100 percent commitment to her client in terms of the obligation that she had.

GWEN IFILL: And is there any way to tell as you try to suss out what she believes in that she is someone who believes in the strict applicability of the Constitution? Is there any way to gauge where, when she doesn’t have a client to represent but she is representing the American people on the Supreme Court, where she would come out?

SUSAN KARAMANIAN: Well, you heard her just say on the program preceding this, where she announced her commitment to the Constitution. And she is firmly committed, obviously, to supporting the Constitution of the United States.

GWEN IFILL: David Jackson, any sense of her political leanings? I mean, she gave that $1,000 to Al Gore. She obviously is very close to this president. Where is she in that?

DAVID JACKSON: That’s a good question too. A big debate back when she was on the council — whether she was a Democrat or Republican. She used to speak quite favorably of Lloyd Bentsen, who was a Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1988, but I think most people think she is a pretty conservative Republican.

Reviewing my own notes, I remember she came out very four square behind the first Iraq war; that is one of the few national issues I remember her discussing.

GWEN IFILL: And she also, wasn’t she also behind the Texas Bar Association’s — an effort to make the Texas Bar Association take itself out of the abortion fight?

DAVID JACKSON: Well she didn’t think the bar — I think it might have been the American Bar Association —


DAVID JACKSON: — but she didn’t think they should be endorsing or opposing abortion rights but I think she’ll tell you that she just felt like the members ought to have a say into whether or not they did that. I don’t think she was especially declaring her position on the actual issue itself, she just said members ought to have a vote on it.

GWEN IFILL: Okay. David Jackson of the Dallas Morning News; Susan Karamanian of George Washington University, thank you both very much.