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Miers Supreme Court Nomination Gets Positive Yet Cautious Reviews


President Bush has turned to a longtime aide, White House Counsel Harriet Miers, to fill the second of two vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Harriet Miers is 60 years old, and had an impressive career as a lawyer in Texas before working with Mr. Bush when he was governor of Texas in the mid-1990s.

Ms. Miers has been nominated to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court. Justice O'Connor has long been a moderate and pivotal vote on the high court, and opposition Democrats have said they would fight any effort by the president to replace her with a conservative ideologue.

In keeping with the O'Connor legacy, President Bush says Harriet Miers has also been a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She was the first woman to head a major law firm in Texas, and became the first woman to lead both the Dallas and Texas bar associations.

The president says his nominee has devoted her life to the rule of law and the cause of justice.

"Harriet Miers will strictly interpret our Constitution and laws," he said. "She will not legislate from the bench."

Ms. Miers is described by colleagues as very loyal to the president, someone who keeps longs hours, but prefers to stay out of the public limelight.

All that will change with her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a test she says she is prepared to meet.

"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," she said.

Opposition Democrats were generally positive, but cautious about her nomination.

New York Democrat Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He says the American people know less about Harriet Miers than they did about John Roberts, the president's choice for chief justice, who was recently confirmed by the Senate.

Senator Schumer says Democrats will question Harriet Miers closely in the hearings. But he also says the president may have helped himself by not nominating what he called an extremist conservative to the high court.

"I think, what the president is understanding in his second term is that the views of the very extreme wing of his party are the not the views of the American people, just like the views of the left-wing of the Democratic Party are not the views of the American people," he said.

Senate Republicans expect Ms. Miers to get tough questions. But they also want the hearings to be as respectful as they were for Chief Justice Roberts.

"[A process] That is dignified, that respects the independence of the judiciary and that reflects well on the United States Senate," said John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Some Democrats have questioned Harriet Miers' qualifications, noting that she has no experience as a judge. Historically, though, several justices have served on the Supreme Court, without having any judicial experience. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid says he likes the fact Ms. Miers has experience as a lawyer, but not a judge.

Ms. Miers' lack of judicial experience means there is no so-called paper trail of rulings that opposition Democrats could pick apart during the confirmation hearings.

"One of the reasons he picked Harriet Miers is that she is a very difficult target to get your handle on, if you are the Senate Democrats," said David Yalof, an expert on law and politics at the University of Connecticut. "It is going to be hard to claim that she is a judicial ideologue, because there is no judicial record whatsoever to claim."

Some legal analysts were surprised by the Meirs nomination. Jonathan Turley is a constitutional law expert at George Washington University. He thought the president might turn to other better-known conservative jurists to replace Justice O'Connor.

"It is just simply incredible that the president would walk past so many intellectual leaders on the court, people who are known to be the brightest stars of the conservative legal field, and select his personal lawyer [White House Counsel]," he said.

Liberal special interest groups are urging Senate Democrats to press Harriet Miers for answers during her confirmation hearings. The reviews from conservative legal groups have been mixed, with some praising her selection, and others questioning whether she is conservative enough, especially on the divisive issue of abortion.

"I do think, though, that she is a much less controversial figure than others Bush could have nominated,"said John Fortier, a political expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "So, it will not be in the scheme of things a super battle, or one that we will remember in history as one of the great controversial judicial nominations of all time."

Senate Republican leaders hope to have a full Senate vote on Harriet Miers' confirmation by the end of November.

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