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Few Clues to Miers' Convictions

The nominee's life has been marked by dramatic political and religious shifts, which have raised questions about her core beliefs.

October 06, 2005|From Times Staff Writers


DALLAS -- For Harriet Ellan Miers, the road to a Supreme Court nomination began in summer 1994, with an ugly little legal problem involving an exclusive East Texas fishing camp and the soon-to-be governor, George W. Bush.

A caretaker named J.W. Moseley alleged that Bush and the other members -- who included two former Texas secretaries of state and former Dallas Cowboys owner H.R. "Bum" Bright -- had unjustly fired him out of "spite and ill will."

For most of the members, men of established wealth and power, the suit was little more than a nuisance. But for Bush, it carried the potential for public embarrassment that no rising political star needs, especially because there was talk that cabins at the camp, known as the Rainbo Club, had been used to gain questionable tax advantages.

Bush turned to Miers, a relative newcomer to his political team. Although lawyers for the other defendants opted for confidential settlements with Moseley, Miers elected to fight. She not only got the complaint against Bush dismissed, she handled it so deftly that there was no awkward publicity.

"It took awhile to get it disposed of, but it did go away. She did a crackerjack job," said Jim Francis, a Dallas lawyer who originally brought Miers on board as general counsel for the gubernatorial campaign.

A grateful Gov. Bush made Miers his personal attorney -- and a de facto member of his inner circle. It would transform Miers' life.

"She took the pill. She said: 'I'm yours,' " said a longtime GOP strategist in Texas who has worked with Bush and Miers, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"She put her personal life, everything, on hold."

That loyalty and commitment, demonstrated repeatedly in Texas and after Miers followed Bush to the White House in 2001, led the president to reassure skeptical conservatives with the simple statement: "I know her heart."

Some are still unconvinced, however, that Miers can be counted on to deliver swing votes on such ideologically charged issues as abortion and gay marriage.

Part of the reason is that Miers' life has been marked by dramatic religious and political shifts: She grew up Catholic but as an adult became a born-again Protestant. She was raised a Democrat and gave money in 1988 to Al Gore's unsuccessful Democratic presidential nomination bid and to then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) when he ran for vice president. But she now speaks openly of her devotion to Bush, whom one associate said she considers a "genius."

On gay and lesbian issues, Miers at one point said homosexuals deserved the same civil rights as straight people and argued that Dallas should fund AIDS education projects. More recently, she has been deeply involved at Valley View Christian Church, which embraces the social policies of the religious right.

Miers' closest friends, including her companion of 30 years, conservative Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan L. Hecht, say she has never declared whether she would like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned. But her church -- a towering edifice with a pyramid-like steeple in Dallas, not far from the President George Bush Turnpike -- is decidedly antiabortion.

Small wonder that, when someone asked her what she thought people would say about her behind her back, Miers answered: "They can't figure me out."

The uncertainty is intensified by the fact that Miers, 60, has managed to leave little evidence of her own values and convictions, beyond her commitment to her church.

As a corporate lawyer, she gained attention not for what she said but how she listened, and for how she kept clients' names out of the news. Though she served a brief term on the Dallas City Council, few can remember any agendas or programs she pushed. And as a member of her church for about 25 years, she is more likely to be singing in the choir or setting out doughnuts than drawing attention as a White House dignitary in a center pew.

With so much at stake and her record so difficult to discern, Republicans and Democrats are turning for clues to the bits and pieces of Miers' earlier life.


Miers and Hecht have been close friends for 30 years, as well as romantically involved off and on. That friendship helped foster her midlife conversion to evangelical Christianity.

Around 1980, she was struggling with her Catholic faith and Hecht, a leader at Valley View Christian, invited her to pray with him. She was thirsting for change and decided that faith should be more central to her life, Hecht and others said.

Ron Key, a longtime minister who recently left Valley View, said Miers was soon baptized before the congregation, in a pool behind the choir loft. It was a transformative moment, Key said.

"It wasn't like this ogre became a wonderful person overnight, because she was already a nice individual," said Key, who was at the baptismal ceremony. "It was just that her life lacked focus and purpose."

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