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Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers' Spiritual Journey
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Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers' Spiritual Journey

Religion

Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers' Spiritual Journey

Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers' Spiritual Journey
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The story that's emerging of Harriet Miers' religious conversion is an important part of her life — and a key factor in the deliberations over her nomination to the Supreme Court. But Miers' faith doesn't fit a simple stereotype of an evangelical.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

If Harriet Miers is confirmed for a seat on the US Supreme Court, one question all over the news this week is: Would she carry conservative evangelical views onto the bench? In the absence of hard evidence, everyone, it seems, is trying to peer into her spiritual life. But as NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports, making a connection between personal faith and legal decisions is a risky business.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY reporting:

Harriet Miers' conversion from Catholic to Evangelical has, in the past four days, become almost legendary. She was in her early 30s and on her way to becoming managing partner of a large law firm and president of the Texas Bar Association. But Ron Key, who was Miers' pastor for 25 years, says success did not, for her, bring significance.

Reverend RON KEY: And I think that probably Harriet got to that point where she realized, you know, what's all this for. And at that point, when she turned towards Jesus and she placed her faith in him, that gave her a focus and a purpose for living out her life.

HAGERTY: Miers joined his Evangelical Church, Valley View Christian Church in Dallas, and embarked on a spiritual journey, attending services and teaching Sunday school. In converting as an adult, Miers' spiritual journey parallels that of President Bush, who was 40 years old when he took that famous walk on the beach with Billy Graham. Jay Sekulow, who heads the American Center for Law and Justice and is also an adult convert to Christianity, says one cannot underestimate that bond.

Mr. JAY SEKULOW (American Center for Law and Justice): There's a spiritual connection here that is significant and I think that's important. It's important for the president, who takes his faith seriously. It's important for Harriet Miers, who also takes her faith seriously.

HAGERTY: Miers' faith and her conversion have been above the fold news this week; so much so that the man who has been telling the story, Miers' longtime friend Nathan Hecht, is modulating it a bit. He says on that evening when Miers came to talk to him about faith, he can't quite remember if they actually prayed to accept Jesus.

Mr. NATHAN HECHT: There wasn't an orchestra anywhere. The rockets didn't go off or anything. It just--`Hey, you know, I've been thinking about this and, you know, I think this is probably what's right for me.' That was it.

HAGERTY: I have the sense that you're getting tired of talking about this. Is that right?

Mr. HECHT: Well, I've told the story several times, or maybe several dozen times. I mean, it was a very profound decision in Harriet's life and she takes it very personally. But there's just a lot more to Harriet than that.

HAGERTY: Whatever happened during that transaction between a woman and her god, Miers did not become a right-wing evangelist. In fact, several close friends say they didn't even know about her conversion experience. Rena Pederson, who until recently worked for the Dallas Morning News, has known Miers for 20 years.

Ms. RENA PEDERSON: It nettles me a little bit when people use the term `evangelical' to describe Harriet, you know, as if she were some kind of Bible thumper.

HAGERTY: Pederson says Miers is intensely private about her faith. They never discuss issues like abortion and homosexuality. She adds that Miers has been, quote, "confounding expectations" her entire career. Take, for example, the years she served on the Dallas City Council.

Ms. PEDERSON: I think people thought she'd be a mouthpiece for the business establishment, but she was not. She voted with what you would call the business line when she felt it was appropriate. But if it wasn't, she didn't. And I think she surprised some people.

HAGERTY: Miers was on record saying she supported civil rights for homosexuals, but not the repeal of the Texas sodomy law. She also served on the board of a Christian ministry to help ex-convicts re-enter society. Religious conservatives like Tony Perkins at the Family Research Council draw little comfort from the fact that she attended two or three anti-abortion dinners a decade ago. On MSNBC's "Hardball," Perkins said that's not nearly enough.

(Soundbite of "Hardball")

Mr. TONY PERKINS (Family Research Council): There's no paper trail. She doesn't have opinions. She didn't sit on the bench. No public speeches, so we're not certain what her philosophy is. And that's all we really have to stand on in this case is the president's track record of making good appointments.

HAGERTY: And her faith. But, of course, there are all kinds of Christians. Still, the ACLJ's Jay Sekulow isn't worried. He says the president is not counting on conversion alone.

Mr. SEKULOW: He knows her judicial philosophy and how she views the Constitution. But, look, the fact that they share a common bond and a common faith, and it's been tried and true and tested, I think's important.

HAGERTY: Soon the Senate will have a chance to test her as well. But for now, the nature of Harriet Miers' faith, like her legal views, remains something of a mystery.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News, Washington.

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