Choice of Miers Divides Republicans

Divisions among Republicans are arising on the choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court. Some are backing the president's nomination, but others are concerned.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Back to the president's Supreme Court nominee and the key question: What does Harriet Miers believe? There are some hints in her record from Texas, but many of them are conflicting. She is a staunch Republican, but she's also supported causes dear to Democrats. As an elected official, she preferred to research issues rather than make speeches, and as NPR's John Burnett reports, Harriet Miers has been careful to shield her politics from public view.

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

Harriet Ellen Miers will not be easy to pigeonhole. As a high-powered Republican corporate lawyer, she embraced legal issues involving society's most powerless defendants. As president of the state Bar of Texas from 1992 to '93, Miers took a special interest in recruiting large law firms, including her own, to do pro bono representation of death-penalty cases. What's more, she's been a longtime supporter of legal services for the poor, says Bill Whitehurst, an Austin lawyer who currently heads the American Bar Association's Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.

Mr. BILL WHITEHURST (ABA Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants): I've worked with her for many years, and I can truly tell you her heart is in the right place on those issues.

BURNETT: Where the 60-year-old lawyer stands on pressing social issues, such as abortion, gay rights or religious expression, is harder to pin down. As state bar president, she opposed an effort by the American Bar Association to take a stand in support of abortion rights. While some interpret that as her personal opposition to abortion, in Texas it was seen more as a conciliatory move, says John Council, senior reporter with the Texas Lawyer magazine.

Mr. JOHN COUNCIL (Texas Lawyer Magazine): And her only reason in doing that is just that she didn't want to alienate half the bar, which, you know, it's sort of an interesting comment to make about her--is that she was even then trying to stay away from controversial things.

BURNETT: Her current stance on Roe v. Wade is unknown. In 1989, however, she did buy a $150 ticket to a dinner given by a pro-life group. Since the early 1980s, Miers attended Valley View Christian Church in North Dallas, described by the current minister as a conservative evangelical pro-life church. The Reverend Ron Key is the outgoing pastor and a personal friend of Miers.

Reverend RON KEY: Obviously, she is a person of strong faith, but I think that she'll try to do a job and honor the Constitution and do what she thinks is right.

BURNETT: Harriet Miers grew up in Dallas, attended public high school, worked her way through SMU undergraduate and law school, became the first woman partner at a major Texas law firm, then the first woman to head the Dallas bar and the state bar associations. She served one term on the Dallas City Council and was appointed to chair the Texas Lottery Commission before she came to Washington with President Bush.

Friends say she migrated from the Democrat to the Republican Party. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which researches campaign finances, in 1988 Miers gave $3,000 to Al Gore and other national Democrats. Since then she has given $4,000 to both Bush campaigns and $5,000 to the Bush-Cheney recount fund in 2000.

As co-partner at a prestigious Dallas law firm, Miers handled complex commercial litigation. When she was elected to the City Council in 1989, there was suspicion about where her sympathies lay, said Rene Pederson, former editorial page editor at The Dallas Morning News and a personal friend of Miers. She says they have burgers and beer together when she's in town.

Ms. RENE PEDERSON: People thought that she would be--she would vote along the lines of the business establishment, mainly because she came from a big law firm. But she often sided with members of the minority community, and she reached across lines.

BURNETT: In her run for the City Council 16 years ago, Miers indicated support for full civil rights for homosexuals, although she refused to support a repeal of the state's anti-sodomy law. Said one longtime lawyer friend from Dallas, who's a liberal Democrat, `Harriet's only agenda is to do what's right.' And he added, `I'm as intrigued as anybody else to find out what she believes about the big issues.' John Burnett, NPR News, Austin.

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