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Wayne Bessen

Who is Harriet Miers?

Supreme Court Justice nominee Harriet Miers
in a press conference with President Bush.

President George W. Bush once called his mystery Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers "a pit bull in size six shoes." This courtroom Cujo is going to bite someone in the rear and the roiling debate is whether she takes a chunk out of the right or left cheek.

No one really knows and if the John Roberts confirmation hearings are any indication a tight leash and a muzzle will keep us from finding out the answer before she is confirmed.
"We just don't know anything about her," said Nancy Keenan, president of Naral, Pro-Choice America.
The conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page called her nomination, "a Texas mystery" and a "Faith-based nomination."

Miers' record is a Rorschach test. If one views the nomination with the attitude that the glass is half full, it can appear Miers is a friend. If one looks through a more negative prism, Miers can seem quite hostile.
Harriet Miers certainly does not fit the profile of a right-wing fundamentalist. She is a career woman who has never been married or had children. Bush appointed her to head the Texas State Lottery, surely angering fundamentalists who believe gambling is sinful. She once gave a campaign contribution to Al Gore and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is going out of his way to commend her nomination.
In 1989, during her successful campaign for a seat on the Dallas City Council, Miers favored equal rights for gay people and said that the city had a duty to fund AIDS education and medical care.

"She was not hostile nor did she come across as some kind of right-wing ideologue," said Louise Young, a Dallas software engineer and former co-chair of the Lesbian/Gay Political Coalition of Dallas.
While on the Council, Miers appointed prominent gay attorney Don McCleary to a city board that oversees federal grants.

"I can't say policy wise that she will be good on our issues," Lerro told The New York Blade. "But on a personal level, she was very open to having gay people serve on boards and commissions."
As we know, the only thing that matters to Neo-Puritans is opposition to abortion and homosexuals. Bush's choice of a relatively unknown crony who may not be in the mold of Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas has made some apoplectic.

"Conservatives feel betrayed," screamed legendary right-wing direct mail guru Richard Viguerie.
"The ramifications will be felt not just against him [Bush] but against the Republican Party," warned Gary Bauer, president of American Values. Meanwhile, The Weekly Standard's William Kristol said the nomination made him "disappointed," "depressed" and "demoralized." We can only hope his health insurance covers Prozac.

To mollify disgruntled right-wingers, Vice President Dick Cheney scrambled to the airwaves to make a fairly convincing conservative case for Miers on the Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh talk radio shows.
In her run for the Dallas City Council in 1989, she filled out a questionnaire saying that she was in favor of sodomy laws that could imprison gay people. Perhaps her views have changed, as have those of the Supreme Court, with its landmark ruling in 2003 that sodomy laws are unconstitutional. But if she still rejects a fundamental right to privacy, her nomination is worthy of a filibuster.

On abortion, Miers fought tooth and nail against an American Bar Association (ABA) resolution that spoke in favor of Roe v. Wade. However, it is possible, though unlikely, that she opposed the plank because of her belief that the ABA should not take stands on controversial issues. Conservatives also tout a $150 donation she gave at a supper for Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL) sponsored by an anti-abortion group.
Her conservative credentials have led some leading Neo-Puritans to back her nomination, with Focus on the Family's usually mercurial leader James Dobson supporting her by cryptically saying, "Some of what I know I am not at liberty to talk about."

Of course, Miers' relationship with the president is troubling. Her recent commitment to conservative Christianity also raises serious alarm bells. But even the significance of her membership in the Valley View Christian Church is frustratingly ambiguous. Her church professes the uncompromising evangelical view of the Bible as "the only infallible, inspired, authoritative Word of God." But it also asserts, "not to be dogmatic about matters on which believers hold divergent views."
In making up my mind, I want to know three things:

Have Miers' views evolved on right to privacy issues, such as abortion and sodomy?
Exactly what does James Dobson know that he is not at liberty to talk about?
Has her new commitment to evangelical Christianity swung her to the right on social issues?

Everyone has an opinion on the pit bull, but someone has to be right, while those who guessed wrong could end up in the judicial doghouse for decades to come.


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