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White House Counsel Named As Supreme Court Nominee

By Elisabeth Bumiller


President Bush on Monday named Harriet E. Miers, the deliberative, inconspicuous White House counsel and a longtime member of his inner circle, as his choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.

Miers, 60, the first woman to be president of the State Bar of Texas, is a former Democrat who became a leader in the state’s moderate Republican legal establishment. She has never been a judge, and her positions on abortion and other contentious social issues are largely unknown.

“In selecting a nominee, I’ve sought to find an American of grace, judgment and unwavering devotion to the Constitution and laws of our country,” Bush said in a hastily arranged 8:01 a.m. televised appearance with Miers in the Oval Office. “Harriet Miers is just such a person.”

Miers, in one of her rare appearances speaking before television cameras, said that over her three decades of legal practice and community service, “I have always had a great respect and admiration for the genius that inspired our Constitution and our system of government.”

She added, in a signal to conservatives that she would not attempt to inject policy into her rulings, that “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 obligations to strictly apply the laws and the Constitution.”

The president’s announcement came a little more than an hour before the formal ceremony making John G. Roberts Jr. the 17th chief justice of the United States on the very first day of the court’s fall term. With O’Connor setting aside her retirement until a replacement is confirmed, the president and Senate Republicans urged a speedy hearing process for Miers, who, if approved, could be sworn in by December.

White House officials cast Miers as a trailblazer for women with an impressive record of accomplishment in Texas, while Bush’s opponents called her a presidential crony who was a leader in the search for a Supreme Court nominee that ended with herself.

No one disputes that she has been exceptionally close to the president for more than a decade — as his personal lawyer, as his choice to lead and clean up the Texas Lottery Commission and as the general counsel to his two gubernatorial campaigns. In 1998, during Bush’s second run for governor, Miers handled the first questions about whether Bush received favorable treatment to win a coveted spot in the Texas Air National Guard and thus was not subject to the draft during the Vietnam War.

A Republican strategist, who did not want to be named talking about internal deliberations at the White House, cast the choice in political terms, and said that the selection showed that Bush, who is experiencing some of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, was “trying to reach out to the broad middle where the country is, and that he’s not looking for gratuitous fights.” The strategist said the White House expected “some grumbling” on the right, “but at the end of the day, as long as it’s controlled fire, that’s not a bad thing because it shows that the president wants to govern seriously.”