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Bush picks insider for high court

October 3, 2005

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush on Monday
reached into his inner circle and nominated White House lawyer
Harriet Miers for a Supreme Court vacancy, choosing a woman who
is not a judge and whose views on major issues are largely
unknown.

Many conservatives, who formed the bedrock foundation of
Bush’s re-election last November, immediately protested the
nomination of Miers to replace retiring Sandra Day O’Connor, as
a betrayal of his campaign promise to pick conservative judges.

Miers, 60, a longtime political ally of Bush’s going back
to his days as Texas governor, would be the third woman to
serve on the Supreme Court if confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
O’Connor was the first and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been there
since 1993.

Miers, a lawyer in Texas, was named by then-Gov. Bush to
the state’s lottery commission, and came to the White House for
Bush’s first term. In 2004 she was promoted to White House
counsel when her predecessor Alberto Gonzales became attorney
general.

“I believe that senators of both parties will find that
Harriet Miers’ talent, experience and judicial philosophy make
her a superb choice to safeguard the constitutional liberties
and equality of all Americans,” Bush said in an Oval Office
ceremony with Miers.

O’Connor, a moderate conservative, was the key swing vote
on a number of 5-4 decisions on the closely divided Supreme
Court. Democrats said much was unknown about Miers and that she
would undergo intense scrutiny.

In turning to someone who has no record of judicial
decisions, Bush could face opposition from many who say she is
not the best qualified candidate for the high court.

However, nearly a third of the 109 justices in U.S. history
were not judges including Chief Justice William Rehnquist whose
death led to John Roberts’ elevation to the post. The justices
now on the court had all been judges.

The White House noted some Democrats and Republicans had
urged Bush to consider the Dallas-born Miers but would give no
names. One was Senate Minority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada
Democrat.

“I like Harriet Miers,” said Reid, who voted against John
Roberts as U.S. chief justice last week. “In my view, the
Supreme Court would benefit from the addition of a justice who
has real experience as a practicing lawyer.”

CONSERVATIVES WARY

But some conservatives expressed concern that Bush had
missed a historic opportunity to shift the balance of the court
in a clear way by picking someone in the same mold as the
court’s most conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence
Thomas.

They said it appeared that Bush, politically weakened by
the Iraq war and the slow federal response to Hurricane
Katrina, had shied away from battle.

“It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that President
Bush flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy,” said
William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard magazine. “Her
selection will unavoidably be judged as reflecting a
combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the
president.”

Manny Miranda, head of a conservative coalition called The
Third Branch Conference, said Miers was “the most unqualified
choice” for the high court since Lyndon Johnson tried to make
Abe Fortas chief justice in 1968.

“(Bush) said he would name someone like Antonin Scalia and
Clarence Thomas. We thought he meant someone with a clear
judicial record on particular issues,” Miranda said.

Vice President Dick Cheney rushed to try to bolster the
right flank, telling the Rush Limbaugh radio show, “I’m
confident that she has a conservative judicial philosophy that
you’d be comfortable with, Rush.”

“Trust me,” he added.

Some of the concern was about Miers having given money to
both Republicans and Democrats, including $1,000 to Democrat Al
Gore’s presidential campaign in 1988.

In more recent years, Miers has regularly contributed to
Republicans.

MAINSTREAM NOMINEE?

Democrats were largely measured in their reaction.

New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said they would
push for documents on her and pressure her to answer questions
about her judicial philosophy.

“There’s hope that Harriet Miers is a mainstream nominee,”
he said.

Democrats were frustrated when the conservative Roberts,
during his confirmation hearings, refused to comment on issues
that he might have to rule on.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush met with
Miers about the job four times, most recently on Sunday night,
when he offered her the job over dinner in the White House.

She was among six women in a group of 12 to 15 candidates
considered for the position, said McClellan.

Bush credited Miers with breaking down barriers to women in
the Texas legal profession and called on the Senate to conduct
her confirmation hearings with “the same respect and civility”
granted Roberts, who was in place on Monday for the opening of
the Supreme Court’s new term.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican,
said he hoped to Senate would vote on her by the Thanksgiving
holiday November 24.

(Additional reporting by Thomas Ferraro, Tabassum Zakaria
and Adam Entous)